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Data management: Using data to assess impact, understand needs and inform service delivery

22 July 2014

Collection of accurate data is essential for assessing impact, understanding support needs and designing appropriate services to meet those needs. The more, good quality, data that is available, the more the service delivery design will be able to reflect the true needs of the communities. Sharing data is one important way to achieve this efficiently. Sharing data also helps partners to provide a joined up service, ensuring that people affected by welfare reform receive the right support, at the right time, from the right person.

In order to effectively help people to manage the changes brought about by welfare reform, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of who is affected and in what way. Data about tenants and residents' circumstances provide detailed information that can be used to inform service delivery and acts as a baseline against which the impact of services can be measured

Generally, local authorities and housing associations have not always had systems in place to capture all the data they need. To fill in the gaps, data sharing with other organisations has proven essential in targeting interventions effectively. For example, effective data sharing between local authorities and the DWP was vital in establishing who was likely to be affected by the benefit cap, and allowed local authorities to make contact with affected households in advance of implementation. Equally important was local authorities sharing information about households affected by under occupation with housing providers. It is clear from talking to housing associations that getting this data early was important for planning, but their experience was that some local authorities took much longer to provide this than others.

Rushmoor Borough Council and First Wessex Housing Association were dependent on the external development of software to allow them to combine their data on household makeup and number of rooms. They recognised the importance of early planning, so to avoid delay they decided to contact all housing association tenants of working age with a questionnaire to find out more about their circumstances. This was an interim measure which allowed them to start improving their data as well as an opportunity to provide general information and details of how to find out more.

AmicusHorizon also recognised that the data it held was not sufficient to accurately identify which tenants would be affected by housing benefit changes. In 2012/13, they carried out a survey of 8,000 households to find out about household makeup and also took the opportunity to find out whether or not households had access to a bank account or the internet, in order to understand more about what help they might need in advance of the introduction of Universal Credit. To find out about the communications methods that AmicusHorizon has used to share information about benefit changes, and the ways in which they have worked with local partners, please go to communications and working together

We have also heard from local authorities and housing associations that are using and sharing data to inform and develop service delivery. Like many local authorities, Rushmoor Borough Council regularly sends up to date lists of all tenants affected by changes to housing benefit to local housing associations. In addition they update them whenever they grant a DHP, and discuss how well the tenant is engaging with support, as in many cases, receiving a DHP is conditional on the tenant undertaking certain specified actions

Some local authorities and housing associations have commissioned external research, either to help them understand their tenants' and residents' circumstances or to evaluate the impact of their work. For example, a group of housing associations in the South West of England, including Knightstone has commissioned the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to carry out longitudinal research into the impact of welfare reform on the work options and choices of 200 tenants.

Oxford City Council had their Universal Credit Local Authority Led Pilot, which focused on helping residents overcome any barriers they had to seeking employment, independently evaluated by Oxford University. This evaluation concluded that of the 39 people who had moved into work by the end of the pilot all but one of these had done so as a result of the intervention of the pilot. For more information about what Oxford City Council is doing to work with local organisations to support their residents and help people to build their resilience, please go to working together and building resilience

See also:

Wiltshire Money shared data between member organisations early and continues to do so regularly. This has enabled them to gather a Wiltshire-wide picture of the impact of welfare reform on residents and local services.