Taking stock of housing statistics

Statisticians across the UK have been working together to help make housing and planning statistics more coherent and comparable. The work is now starting to yield results – including collaboration between statisticians in the devolved administrations and publication of experimental stats on homeless deaths in England and Wales. Debra Prestwood updates on the progress so far.

Housing affects all citizens in the UK and official statistics on housing play a vital role in helping to inform decision-making of all kinds. In May 2018 we pledged to improve the harmony and coherence of housing and planning statistics.  Eight months on it’s fair to say that the work set out in the programme has largely been achieved. We have also made progress in joining up statisticians across government and strengthening links across departments and the devolved administrations – both at an operational and strategic level.

Establishing coherence between the differing approaches of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is proving to be beneficial, although not without challenges given that individual countries often have separate policies and legislation relating to housing due to devolution.  Working closely with our colleagues, we have found a balance between driving forward improvements whilst maintaining the devolved nature of the statistics.

The five key areas we identified to improve in May 2018 are coherence, quality, harmonisation, accessibility and user engagement, as described in our workplan:

Coherence – Housing and homelessness are high profile topics and important improvements to the coherence of these statistics include:

  • A new experimental Statistical Framework for Housing and Planning Statistics developed in collaboration across the GSS, as a tool for identifying what we are measuring and priority areas for improvements.
  • A better understanding of data gaps and new analysis to start to address these. For example, the first publication of the Deaths of Homeless People in England and Wales.
  • The publication of an article on the Private Rented Sector, which brought together existing data sources from across the UK to assess comparability, coherence and data limitations.

Quality – Departments and devolved administrations are constantly striving to improve the quality of their statistics in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics and in the context of the Office for Statistics Regulation’s Systemic review of UK housing and planning statistics:

  • In England – The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) outlined their action plan for improving the measurement of new homes and published the first estimates of statutory homelessness using more detailed record level ‘H-CLIC’ data.
  • In Northern Ireland – the Department for Communities and the Housing Executive are working together to produce a standalone publication of homelessness statistics.
  • Household Projections for England were successfully transferred from MHCLG to ONS and a new methodology implemented.
  • In Wales – a new Welsh Housing Conditions Survey was conducted, with the first results since 2008 published.

Harmonisation of definitions and statistics is an important enabler of cross UK comparisons, and can help avoid unnecessary confusion and erroneous comparisons. Improvements here include:

  • Statistical publications are increasingly setting themselves in the context of other available data sources across the UK, giving agreed, consistent messaging about comparability and harmonisation, for example the recent MHCLG Affordable Housing Supply publication has a section on devolved administration statistics.
  • MHCLG have created a harmonised Glossary of terms and definitions used across their published statistics.
  • Statistical producers across all four nations have contributed to a report on the feasibility of developing a harmonised definition of homelessness, which will be published soon.

Accessibility – to help improve the public value of these statistics, the accessibility of datasets has been improved by the:

  • Creation of a webpage for cross UK housing related content and updates on progress.
  • Development of an overview identifying which departments and devolved administrations produce data on which topics.
  • A new spreadsheet guide to statistics available in the UK by topic.
  • MHCLG has added additional contextual information to their publications. For example, related releases such as Social Lettings and Social Housing Sales were published on the same day and there are plans to further consult users on how MHCLG releases can be even further aligned.
  • Innovative ways to disseminate statistics in Scotland – using a ‘data comic’ to highlight the key findings from their latest household survey

User engagement – As statistical producers we need to keep users at the heart of any statistical release, developments and addressing information gaps.  We have continued to get feedback on releases and priorities through direct contact, mailing lists and user engagement events and also:

  • We have agreed how to engage with users on the demand for more comparable data, or more transparency where there are necessary differences. Country specific user events are now including sessions on the demand for comparable data and a programme is being developed to further this.
  • We have started to present our work, at the Wales Housing Information Group seminar on the Private Rented Sector, on 24 January. A cross UK London event is scheduled for 14 February which will also focus on this sector.

We’re pleased with how it’s gone so far but will continue to focus on the user perspective to increase the public value of these statistics. In 2019 we’ll share these developments with users and seek suggestions about new priorities for cross UK coherence or quality improvements.

We’ll also draw up the next iteration of our Work Programme taking us through to March 2020 and beyond. This will include more user engagement events across the UK, new articles on affordable housing and homelessness, and we are planning to continue exciting work to prototype linked open data on dwelling stock data across the four nations.

We look forward to building on the momentum of the collaborative work already completed – so that our statistical outputs can help shine a brighter light on society’s evolving questions about housing and planning in the UK.

Please get in touch if you wish to express interest in attending a future user event or get involved in our work.

Debra Prestwood, Deputy Director, GSS Strategy Delivery, ONS