Thinking about Trustworthiness, Quality, and Value across Housing and Planning statistics

When I wrote my last blog just over two years ago, reflecting on the progress that had been made on improving the public value of housing and planning statistics in the UK, little did I know that we were about to enter a pandemic. Cue homeworking, home schooling and everything else that went with it.

In that original blog, I highlighted some of the areas that we would like to see addressed and some recommendations that still needed some work such as “filling gaps on UK private rental sector levels and land use; the need for cross-government work to improve coherence on housing conditions and the quality of UK house-building statistics; and further development of UK homelessness and rough sleeping statistics.”

During those two years and against a backdrop of disruption, statistics producers adapted to the challenges of homeworking and resources being redirected to support covid-related analysis. For example, the English Housing Survey, like many other face-to-face surveys, adapted to moving online and the team was also able to provide valuable insight into the effects of the pandemic on households through its household resilience survey. Producers started to collect and publish management information on the numbers of rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness helped off the streets during lockdown. We also saw innovation in the introduction of data dashboards such as that from the Scottish Housing Regulator which included information on the impact of COVID-19 on social landlords and their tenants. 

Progress has also been made outside of pandemic-related work. For example, on the theme of private rents, ONS has recently announced further information on its redevelopment of private rental prices statistics, and Government Statistical Service (GSS) statisticians collaborated on this ONS report on Homelessness in the UK. 

The cross-GSS housing and planning working group published its latest work plan at the end of 2021, and it’s great to see some ambitious work planned which tie-in to our original recommendations. The work of the group also feeds well into ‘TQV’ – trustworthiness, quality, and value – the framework of our Code of Practice for Statistics.

Think Trustworthiness

We often encourage statistics producers to publicly share their work plans to demonstrate transparency and to foster wider and better engagement with users which is why we welcome this latest work plan for 2021/22 which includes summaries of progress to date. This is an achievement in itself given all the disruption to statistics producers and teams across the GSS due to the pandemic and we would like to congratulate all involved. 

It’s great that the working group has made an ongoing commitment to engage with users to help shape the work programme and development plans. It is so important for producers to listen to what users have to say and to reflect on the feedback, and that user engagement needs to be planned and collaborative.

Part of this ongoing user engagement includes continued engagement with users on what they would like to see as topics for the next coherence articles – the suggested priority areas being the private rental sector and energy efficiency – gaps that we identified ourselves through speaking to users.

Think Quality

In the Homelessness and Rough sleeping landscape we are really encouraged to see the plans set out around improving the quality of homelessness and rough sleeping data across the 4 UK countries, some of which echo our findings from our recent assessment of DLUHC’s statistics on Statutory Homelessness in England. In particular we are excited to hear that Welsh Government and DLUHC are continuing to publish their rough sleeping management information, with DLUHC’s latest Rough Sleeping snapshot including commentary on the separate management information collected since the start of the pandemic.

Also, data from the Census 2021 for England and Wales which is due to be published later this year has the potential to be used to provide further insights into the homeless populations or those at risk of homelessness.

Think Value

We are hoping that through ONS’ equalities and inclusion work, improvements to the inclusion of under-represented population groups in statistics, in particular homeless groups, will go some way to fill in gaps on the ‘hidden homeless’ such as sofa surfers, that official data do not currently capture. This is a theme that came up when we spoke to users as part of our assessment of the existing Statutory Homelessness in England statistics, and a group that some homeless charities and organisations have looked to measure. 

Through our regulatory work we are starting to see more statistical producers make use of Power BI to produce more accessible and interactive content. We have already publicly commended this through outputs from our regulatory work and welcome the news that DLUHC is rolling this initiative out further across more of their statistics publications. 

We would like to recognise the work at ONS on Housing Affordability statistics, with the team looking to provide further valuable insight by publishing additional measures such Purchase Affordability along the lines of their existing output on Private rental affordability in England. 

We are delighted to hear of GSS plans related to housing and energy – a very topical issue at the moment – starting with looking at the energy efficiency of housing at a subnational level. This is in line with the GSS subnational data strategy ambition to produce and disseminate increasingly granular statistics. This also highlights further collaborative work and sharing knowledge and priorities, involving people from across the GSS.

Looking forward

As we head into spring, looking forward to what the rest of this year will bring, I am also looking forward to the exciting developments across housing and planning statistics which build on the hard work of GSS statisticians to improve the value of housing and planning statistics across the UK. For example, since the publication of the work plan ONS has published a research output in March looking at the feasibility of using administrative data to provide information on property types in England and Wales as an alternative to census data. We also look forward to seeing the GSS publish further updates on its progress throughout the year and an updated plan of priorities for 2022/23. 

Positive changes to Housing and Planning statistics in the UK

It’s been two years now since we published our review of Housing and Planning statistics in the UK. Our review was extensive and proved to be a catalyst for positive change. So much in fact, that today, we have published a two-year update report which highlights the significant progress that has been achieved, the plans that are being put in place to do more, and provides a new focus on the areas where improvements are still needed.

We made recommendations across seven key areas which if addressed, would improve not just the statistical outputs themselves, but the ways that producers work together and the overall public value of the statistics. The topics of housing and planning are still of high public interest and good statistics for effective public policy and delivery are as essential as ever.

So what has changed in the last two years?

Statistics producers are working together more and aligning their outputs better

The creation of cross-government housing and planning and homelessness groups has increased engagement between the producer teams across the four UK countries and led to more joined-up and collaborative working. We are seeing better coherence across similar statistics, such as coordinated releases of statistics on high profile topics like homelessness and affordable housing.

There has been progress in filling the gaps

In our original report we highlighted that gaps existed in the current housing and planning statistics landscape. We can see that these are starting to be filled. New experimental statistics on homelessness, the number of people who have died whilst homeless, and plans for new statistics on private sector rent levels are welcome additions that provide insights that previously just weren’t there. We look forward to seeing this momentum continue so that existing gaps in UK private sector rent levels and UK land use statistics can also be addressed.

Statistics are being made easier to access and understand

We’ve seen good progress in improving the accessibility of housing and planning outputs using innovative approaches, including the newly released interactive housing and planning statistics landscape tool. This collaborative project has brought housing and planning statistics from all four UK countries into one place and grouped the statistics under understandable titles with brief explanations and allows users to filter and search.

Producers are engaging more with statistics users

In our review, we found there were limited ways for a wider range of users of housing and planning statistics to engage with government statisticians. Since then we have seen an increasingly broad range of coordinated user engagement activity happening across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the results of which are being used to help shape producers’ future plans and developments.

What’s next?

There are still a number of areas that we would like to see addressed, and for some of our original recommendations there is still some way to go.  These include filling gaps on UK private rental sector levels and land use, and the need for cross-government work to improve coherence on housing conditions and the quality of UK house building statistics, alongside the further development of UK homelessness and rough sleeping statistics.

We recognise that the GSS cross-government working groups are successfully coordinating and carrying forward a great deal of the required work and are encouraged by the updated cross-government housing and planning and homelessness work plans. We look forward to seeing updated plans for 2020/21 published in the coming months.

Our recent regulatory work has also identified specific areas where transparency could be, and in some cases, has been improved in the existing National Statistics on housing. We would like to see producers continue to evolve transparent ways of working to further support users’ confidence in the statistical production process, and so that users know how, and when to feed in their views into planned statistical developments.

We have also seen some improvements to quality – though we would like to see further work to assure users of producers own quality assurance processes, and to demonstrate an understanding of the quality assurance processes that their data suppliers undertake for statistics based on administrative sources. These essential aspects of data quality assurance will be highlighted through our future regulatory work, including our forthcoming compliance checks of the rough sleeping statistics produced by both the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Government.

We will continue to monitor the progress of the cross-government work and maintain regular contact with statisticians and stakeholders through our regulatory work, helping to ensure that housing and planning statistics are able to make a valuable contribution to public debate.

Improving the value of Housing and Planning statistics in the UK

Gemma Keane, Office for Statistics Regulation, blogs on the outcomes of the Systemic Review of Statistics on Housing and Planning in the UK, and the steps statistical producers are taking to meet user needs.

“How many houses were built in the UK last year?”

“Which part of the UK had the highest number of rough sleepers last winter?”

Finding the answer to these, apparently simple, questions is not easy as there are over 60 National Statistics published on Housing, Planning and Local Services across the UK, produced by 11 different bodies within the four counties of the UK. These range from Housing and Homelessness to Planning Applications and Grassland Fires.

The responsibility for housing and planning policy is devolved across the UK and each country has its own, different legislation in place, making it difficult sometimes to make comparisons or get an overall picture of what is happening.

Topics such as housing and planning are of high public interest and we know that good statistics are vital to policy and service delivery. This is what drove the need for our Systemic Review of Statistics on Housing and Planning in the UK, focusing on the perspective of users, which we published in November 2017.

As well as identifying many areas that demonstrated good practice by the statistics producers we also identified opportunities for improvement, which is why we started our initial engagement with them to support them through the improvement process.

Since then Housing statisticians from the four UK countries have come together to discuss a joint approach to the review’s findings which they have published along with useful blogs, drawing attention to the 5 key areas the programme would be taking forwards – Coherence, Quality, Harmonisation, Accessibility, and Users.

Each organisation has their own set of challenges and it is often difficult to juggle conflicting priorities. However, we encourage producers to prioritise meeting user needs through coherent publications wherever possible. We welcome the most recent update to the Work Programme this week with the accompanying blog from Debra Prestwood (Deputy Director for GSS Strategy Delivery at ONS). These in addition to the previous blog highlight improvements made across the 5 keys areas of the work programme. For example, the publication of experimental statistics on homeless deaths in England and Wales; producing a new experimental Statistical Framework for Housing and Planning Statistics developed in collaboration across the GSS, as a tool for identifying what is being measured; publishing a feasibility report into the harmonisation of homelessness definitions for use in statistics; and priority areas for improvements.

As part of this work programme, ONS published an informative analysis on the UK Private Rented Sector using a range of data sources from across the four UK countries assessing the comparability, coherence and data limitations. We’re pleased that this is the first in a planned series of reports looking at the different topics across Housing statistics.

Importantly, producer organisations are increasing their user engagement with charities, business, academics and other third party organisations – each bringing their own valuable insight – through events like the recent ONS Forum on Housing & the Private Rented Sector, and the recently launched user feedback survey. It’s great to see the recognition of users’ needs in guiding the developments.

Overall, I am reassured by the recent good progress and I hope to see this momentum continue.