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.