Housing services: learning from case reviews Summary of risk factors and learning for improved practice around the housing sector

Boy stood outside housePublished case reviews highlight that housing services often have a unique insight into the lifestyles of their tenants. They receive complaints from neighbours about behaviour and they conduct regular inspections of family homes. Because of this they may well know about a number of issues - including parental substance abuse, anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and neglect - before other agencies.

The learning from these reviews highlights that housing services should consider the impact that tenants' lifestyles and behaviour are likely to be having on their children. They should also provide support and advice to young people and families experiencing difficulties to prevent them falling into a recurring pattern of rent arrears, anti-social behaviour and eviction

Published: September 2014


This briefing summarises the learning from case review reports. It is an analysis by the NSPCC Information Service, highlighting risk factors and key learning for improved practice.

Reasons case reviews were commissioned

This briefing is based on case reviews published from 2010 onwards. It pulls together and highlights the learning contained in the published reports.

This briefing focuses on learning that specifically relates to housing services.

Key issues for the involvement of the housing sector in case reviews

A focus on maintaining housing standards may lead to an emphasis on tenant control, rather than support. Methods such as increasing the number of inspections, putting tenants on bad behaviour lists, and in the most extreme cases evicting families, don't address the causes of poor behaviour. Many of the behaviours that make families bad tenants are also child protection concerns; and require a supportive, multi-agency response.

A focus of on finding homeless clients somewhere to live may lead to child protection concerns being overlooked. In particular, 16-17 year olds are sometimes treated by housing services as adults in need of accommodation, rather than as children in need. This prevents children from accessing the support services they are entitled to.

Despite having a wealth of information, housing services’ child protection concerns are not always followed up by children’s services.

Repeat evictions, disruptive neighbours, and damp, poorly maintained accommodation has a negative impact on both parents' and children's mental and physical health. The increased stress also has a knock on effect on parenting capacity.

Lack of suitable alternative accommodation leads to children and families remaining in, or turning to, risky living arrangements. For example, a parent may decide to stay with an abusive partner in preference to moving their family into unclean or unsafe temporary accommodation.

Where accommodation is can be as important as what it is like. For example, substance abusers who are trying to get “clean” may find it more challenging if they are living in a known drug using area. Sexually exploited children who are homed in the same area as their exploiters are at risk of repeated exploitation. Parents placed away from their family or people from their own culture or faith may feel socially isolated and lack support networks. 

Prioritising keeping families together can lead to services overlooking risks associated with the family home. For example, looked after children are sometimes reunited with their families despite on-going issues. 

Learning for improved practice

Many housing issues are warning signs of child protection concerns. Housing services should consider the impact that tenants' lifestyles and behaviour are having on their children.

  • Housing inspections that identify concerns around the cleanliness and condition of homes are a possible indication of child neglect.
  • Complaints about tenants' anti-social behaviour could indicate that children are living in an unsafe environment.
  • Concerns should be recorded and residents should be referred to suitable support agencies. Concerns relating to the safety of a child should be reported to children's services.

Child protection needs should be central to decisions around accommodating families and young people. For example, young people should be placed in specialist, supportive accommodation where they can be best protected from their own and other occupants’ risky behaviours. 

Referrals should be followed up to confirm what action is being taken. If the referrer is not satisfied with the response, they should have the confidence to challenge the decision. 

As well as assessing family and housing needs, housing services should assess potential tenants for any child protection concerns.

Where young people aged 16-17 are living independently of their parents, a child in need assessment is still necessary.

Young people and families should be given additional support and advice to prevent them falling into a recurring pattern of rent arrears, anti-social behaviour and eviction. 

The trend in outsourcing housing services to external agencies means tenants often have to deal with multiple agencies when looking for somewhere to live. The application process is complex, and hard to navigate. Young people and families need support and advice to ensure they find suitable accommodation.

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