Dear Paul 

Northern Ireland Homelessness Statistics

We recently completed our compliance check of your Northern Ireland Homelessness Statistics against the Code of Practice for Statistics. Statistics on homelessness are crucial to aid users’ understanding of this important issue. One of the main aims of these official statistics is to help users understand key themes around homelessness and to help review progress in achieving the vison, aims and objectives of the Homelessness Strategy for Northern Ireland 2022-2027, “Ending Homelessness Together”. 

Our review found many positive features demonstrating the trustworthiness, quality and value of these statistics as set out in the Code of Practice. For example:   

  • Homelessness is an important topic, and it is good that you have introduced these statistics. Since being published in 2019, the bulletin has provided valuable insight for users by filling a gap around understanding homelessness in Northern Ireland. 
  • By removing the experimental statistics label, you have demonstrated to users that you judge these statistics to be suitable and of public value. It is good that the user group, made up of the Department for Communities (DfC) and analytical and policy colleagues from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), was consulted on the removal. The development of these statistics reflects a lot of work from your team. There is also evidence of good collaboration between yourselves and NIHE, the data suppliers. For example, your positive relationship allows you to easily query figures with NIHE, allowing you to quickly understand any changes within the data and therefore reduce the risk of error.   
  • The publication is easily accessible to users and can be found alongside other NI Housing Statistics within the DfC webpages. This allows users to easily read the homelessness figures in conjunction with the quarterly NI housing statistics bulletins.  
  • The bulletin uses scenarios to aid user understanding of some of the complex terms used within homelessness. For example, it provides users with the scenario of marital breakdown as an example of how a person may become homeless. We think this is a great way to enhance the accessibility of the statistics and could potentially be used as a case study on our webpages as a reference for other producers.   
  • It is good that you have carried out a QAAD assessment and that an updated version is signposted to in the bulletin and data tables. Publishing your QAAD assessment will help reassure users of the quality of the statistics.    
  • We are pleased there is positive engagement between yourselves and the Government Statistical Service Homelessness and Rough Sleeping working and steering groups, which offer opportunities to share ideas and support coherence.  

To further enhance the trustworthiness, quality and value of these statistics, we have identified ways the statistics and their presentation could be improved. For example: 

  • Data within the bulletin and tables are routinely revised in new publications. However, it is currently not clear within the documentation the timing or extent of revisions. Being clearer about both the extent and timing of revisions would support users’ confidence and trust in the statistics and their appropriate interpretation and use. It is positive you are considering producing a separate revisions policy to help users better understand revisions and introducing a provisional and a final data publication approach for these statistics. This is an opportunity to talk to users and collect their feedback on potential improvements to communicating revisions. Our guide to Presenting Uncertainty may be helpful while you make improvements in this area.  
  • It is good that you currently have a user group in place. However, we would encourage you to widen this pool of users and to work with the NIHE to aid your understanding of users and uses of these statistics. For example, you could consider potential external users such as those within the charity and academic sectors. Our regulatory guidance on user engagement could provide a good starting point when considering widening your user base and engagement activities. It would also be good to publish details of feedback from users, to allow users to see the types of feedback received and improvements based on this.  
  • The quality information could benefit from being clearer on how data are provided. It would be useful for users to know that, in Northern Ireland, individuals present or register as homeless with NIHE. The quality information could also benefit from signposting to the QAAD assessment and quality report from the data tables. 
  • The team mentioned that in future NIHE may look to develop its own housing and homelessness data dashboard. To help realise the full potential of NIHE homelessness case-level data, we encourage your team to work closely with NIHE and users of the statistics to develop coherent and complementary outputs that support a range of homelessness statistics users’ needs. 

I would like to thank your team for their positive engagement during this review and we look forward to continuing to engage with your team going forward. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any aspects of this letter or if we can be of further assistance.  

I am copying this letter to Celeste McCallion and Lesley Curry, the responsible statisticians, and Ursula McAnulty, Lead Official at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. 

Yours sincerely 

Mark Pont 

Assessment Programme Lead