Project description

This hard-hitting investigation broke the story that the cost of housing homeless families in temporary accommodation across the country had topped £1bn a year and highlighted the scale of the ongoing housing crisis in Britain. The figures also revealed for the first time the extent to which the cost of providing this accommodation has soared since the 2009/10, when the Conservative government first came to power.

This investigation has great public interest value, both in terms of the growing numbers of families affected by homelessness and the shortage of permanent accommodation, as well as the growing cost to the taxpayer of providing temporary accommodation, and reveals more context to publicly available figures that show there were 79,190 households in temporary accommodation at the end of September 2017, the highest number since 79,500 were recorded at the end of December 2007. The numbers in temporary accommodation in September 2017 was 54% higher than at the end of March 2010. The households accommodated at the end of September 2017 included 121,360 children, a 63% rise in numbers since March 2010, suggesting families with children are more likely to affected by rising levels of homelessness and the lack of permanent accommodation.

Information gathered in the course of this investigation helps bring context to an issue of national importance and shows the intersecting factors – rising numbers of homelessness claims, higher costs of placing homeless households in hotels rather than traditional accommodation, housing benefit claimants residing in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, and reduced availability of permanent accommodation – that need to be tackled at both national and local level to help stem an unprecedented crisis.

The story was based on a series of Freedom of Information requests used to compile a detailed dataset that covered the use of both bed and breakfast accommodation as well as other forms of temporary accommodation. Gathering data at such a local level means that the story could be tailored to both a local and national audience, as well as giving the opportunity to identify councils that have seen particularly stark increases in spending.

What makes this project innovative?

This dataset has never been compiled before and by doing so I was able to shed light on an issue that housing charities describe as an “ongoing nightmare”. This was an in-depth major investigation using previously unavailable data to break a story with strong public interest.

The figures were painstakingly gathered using the Freedom of Information Act over several months, as one of the keys to this story was to gather as comprehensive a dataset as possible to give a clear view of the scale of the issue. Nearly 800 separate requests were sent in order to gather all of the data needed, and to ensure it was as detailed and up to date as possible, with internal reviews and appeals to the Information Commissioner needed to get some of the public bodies to release the data needed.

The stories are supported by an impactful video that highlights the key points of the investigation in a way that can be used to engage readers clicking onto the webpage or can be shared on social media.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The investigation was published as a double page spread exclusive investigation in the Daily Mirror, as well as front page splashes in the Coventry Telegraph, Newcastle Journal and the Liverpool Echo. It was also widely used across the regional websites in the Trinity Mirror group.

Politicians, including the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Shadow Housing Secretary, responded strongly to the new figures, as did housing charity Shelter. It also gave a voice to the concerns of councils that are struggling to deal with increasing demands and that are seeking greater support from the Government.

The news story was widely shared on social media, with the stories attracting thousands of views online, with many also seeing good reader engagement including comments.

Source and methodology

Freedom of Information requests to councils across Britain, collated in Open Office. Careful records were kept to keep track of the responses received, and ensure those who had yet to reply could be chased. The information received was then entered into a spreadsheet so it could be checked, with particular information that looked like outliers or that was reported in unusual formats queried with the public body, and analysed in order to draw out national and local stories.

Technologies Used

The data is analysed in Open Office. The bulletin system is based on stories written in Google Docs, which are then sent out via Gmail using a script that collects the data from the Google Doc and creates emails that are sent out based on a spreadsheet of contact details.

Project members

Andrew Gregory, Mark Magill

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