What are housing associations doing to tackle homelessness?

05 February 2024

Five years since we began our work at the NHF to support housing associations to reduce homelessness, we decided to rerun our 2018 survey on homelessness services. We wanted to understand what our members are doing to tackle homelessness, share best practice, and find out what barriers are impacting the sector so we can work with government to address them.

Surveying our members in the spring, we repeated the same questions we asked in 2018, along with some new questions around membership of Homes for Cathy and resettlement of Syrian, Afghan and Ukranian refugees. We decided to give more space for members to talk about their priorities, as well as space to highlight the barriers our members face when preventing homelessness.  

The full findings and recommendations are published in our survey report: What are housing associations doing to help prevent homelessness?. So, what did we find out?

Homelessness is a priority for general needs providers and specialists alike.

Around a third (35%) of all respondents specialised in homelessness prevention and support. However, a much larger number (65%) said homelessness was a key strategic priority, showing that even non-specialist providers are keen to respond to rising levels of homelessness.

We also found some evidence that a focus on homelessness may be driving new, innovative approaches. In 2018, 35% of members reported developing new approaches to homelessness in the last five years, but last year that increased to well over two-thirds (71%). This included housing first and housing led schemes, government funded rough sleeper accommodation, and cost of living support funds.

Almost half of respondents were members of Homes for Cathy, a group of housing associations who have signed up to nine commitments to reduce homelessness. Homes for Cathy members reported a high level of confidence in how these commitments were embedded in their organisations.


of respondents reported developing new approaches to homelessness in the last five years.


of respondents provide an intensive support service, compared to just 12% of respondents in 2018.

Housing associations are committed to preventing their residents from becoming homeless, and to relieving homelessness.

Most respondents reported offering homeless prevention schemes. The most popular schemes included advice and support to sustain a tenancy, identifying and intervening when a resident is at risk of eviction, and providing advice and support to help residents access welfare benefits.

Those who completed the survey said they offered a variety of housing options to people facing homelessness, the most common being self-contained dispersed supported housing, general needs housing, supported hostel accommodation and Housing First places.

The last five years have seen a surge in popularity for the Housing First model, with Homeless Link finding that the number of services in England tripled between 2017 and 2020, serving six times more people facing multiple disadvantages. Our survey suggests that our sector has contributed to this surge, with 42% of respondents providing an intensive support service, compared to just 12% of respondents in 2018.

Joint work between housing providers and local authorities is improving.

Our survey found evidence of improving relationships between our members and local councils, with 85% saying they had an excellent or good relationship with the local authority where their homes are located. Several members said relationships were generally better in areas where they have a large number of homes.

There were indications that housing associations were contributing to local authority homeless strategies at a much greater rate than five years ago. In 2018, only 36% of respondents said they “always or often” contributed to an area’s homeless strategy, but in 2023 this figure almost doubled to 61%. However, this figure may be somewhat distorted due to a higher response rate from organisations prioritising homelessness in 2023.

Housing associations also reported a much higher number of special agreements with local authorities to house homeless households outside of their usual nominations agreement. In 2018 only 22% of respondents reported arranging special agreements “always or often”, but in 2023 this figure increased to 51%.


said they had an excellent or good relationship with the local authority where their homes are located.

The number one barrier to housing homeless households remains a lack of homes.

A lack of homes was ranked as the number one barrier to housing homeless households in 2018, and this remains unchanged today.

There is still a need for more affordable, social and supported housing, and this remains a top priority for the NHF – our research has shown that England must build 145,000 social homes each year to meet demand, including 90,000 for social rent.

The second and third largest barriers were ‘uncertain funding arrangements for short term supported housing services’ and the ‘cost of providing support’. Sustainable funding for supported housing is also a top priority for the NHF. We are calling on the government to ring fence funding for housing related support to ensure spending at least matches the £1.6bn/year allocated to Local Authorities in 2010.

We’re also asking the government to recommit to the £300m Housing Transformation Fund to support the development of specialist housing and the integration of housing into health and social care systems.

Who to speak to

Dylan Hemmings