Key data quality information: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2018–19
The AIHW plays a role in developing and maintaining national metadata standards. This work contributes to improving the quality and consistency of national health and welfare statistics. The AIHW works closely with governments and non-government organisations to achieve greater adherence to these standards in administrative data collections to promote national consistency and comparability of data and reporting.
One of the main functions of the AIHW is to work with the states and territories to improve the quality of administrative data and to compile, analyse and disseminate national data sets based on data from each jurisdiction.
Data Quality Statements are developed for each data set and made available on the AIHW Metadata Online Registry (METeOR).The 2018–19 Specialist Homelessness Services Collection Data Quality Statement is available from METeOR.
Breaks in time series
Clients subject to care and protection orders: Improvements made in 2015–16 to the method used to identify clients subject to care and protection orders mean that data from 2011–12 to 2014–15 are not comparable with data from 2015–16 onwards.
Source of income—DVA pension or payment: In 2017–18, the response options for source of income were updated and the three response options relating to payments or pensions from the Department of Veterans Affairs (disability pension—DVA, service pension—DVA and war widow(ers) pension—DVA) were replaced with a single response option of 'DVA pension or payment'. As the single 'DVA pension or payment response' option can include more payment types than the three options previously available, data on the 3 DVA pension or payments from 2011–12 to 2016–17 are not comparable with data on 'DVA pension or payment' from 2017–18 onwards.
Data issues that require caution when making comparisons
Disability: Data for clients with disability who require assistance may not be comparable across age groups due to differences in the interpretation of the disability questions; this issue relates mainly to young children.
Presenting unit type: Data for presenting unit type may not be comparable across age groups due to differences in interpretation of presenting units and how they are recorded. This issue mainly concerns young children and presenting unit type ‘lone person’.
Housing crisis, financial difficulties and housing affordability: Improvements made during 2014–15 resulted in changes to the way agencies were required to report ‘main reason’ and ‘reasons for seeking assistance’. In addition, wording providing a specific example of housing crisis was removed from the section relating to reason for seeking assistance. Caution should be used when making comparisons over time as the reporting of these items may be inconsistent between agencies. These changes in agency reporting were evident in the data from all states and territories.
Children presenting alone: South Australia has a comparatively high number of children reported as presenting alone. This may be due to a difference in how presenting units are recorded in South Australia's client management system. Caution should be used when comparing data for children presenting alone in South Australia with other states and territories.
Case management: Some aspects of case management are recorded differently in South Australia’s client management system. Caution should be used when comparing data on case management for South Australia with other states and territories.
Services and Assistance—Assertive outreach: In 2017–18, there was a clarification made to the response option used to record clients who needed, or were provided, or referred assertive outreach services. The option was changed to specify that this service was directly targeted at rough sleepers. Due to this change, caution should be taken when comparing the number of clients receiving assertive outreach services before and after 2017–18.
Improvements to data items
Mandatory data items: Changes made in 2014–15 resulted in a substantial improvement in data quality for mandatory data items and in particular resulted in a decline in the number of non-response or missing values for these data items. Care should be used when comparing results from 2011–12 to 2013–14 with results from 2014–15 onwards.
Housing situation: Following improvement in the derivation for housing situation used in the SHSC in 2016–17, clients with a tenure status of ‘life tenure scheme’ are now counted under the housing situation category ‘private or other housing (renter, rent-free or owner)’ if their dwelling status was ‘housing/townhouse/flat’. This change has very little impact on housing situation percentages and hence does not constitute a break in time series.
Age: In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Caution should be used when comparing results with publications from December 2018 onwards that include 2017–18 data with previously issued publications.
New South Wales homelessness services underwent a period of major transition in 2014–15 that affected continuity of reporting for some service providers. These issues did not affect New South Wales data for 2017–18, 2016–17 or 2015–16. As outlined in the Data Quality Statement caution should be used when making comparisons of 2014–15 data with other years’ figures for New South Wales or with data for other states and territories. Other jurisdictional-specific information can be found in the Data Quality Statement.
Further information on the data quality of 2018–19 SHSC data can be found in the Explanatory notes in the Supplementary tables.
Imputation and weighting
Data from 2011–12 to 2016–17 are weighted to account for variable rates of agency response and SLK validity. However, due to improvements in agency response and SLK validity rates, data for 2017–18 onwards are not weighted. Unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards are directly comparable with weighted data for 2011–12 to 2016–17. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series.
The annual SHS report and accompanying products presenting financial year data for 2011–12 to 2016–17 are weighted. However, other AIHW publications that analyse the pathways of individual clients over time periods more than a single financial year and publications using SHS data linked with data from other collections, do not use weighted data.
Homelessness status and other housing categories
All clients of specialist homelessness services are considered to be either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Homelessness and at-risk status is determined by the specific criteria described below using three aspects of a client’s housing situation: dwelling type, housing tenure and their conditions of occupancy.
Clients are considered to be homeless if they are living in any of the following circumstances:
- No shelter or improvised dwelling: includes where dwelling type is no dwelling/street/park/in the open, motor vehicle, improvised building/dwelling, caravan, cabin, boat or tent; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in a caravan park.
- Short-term temporary accommodation: dwelling type is boarding/rooming house, emergency accommodation, hotel/motel/bed and breakfast; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in boarding/rooming house, renting or living rent-free in emergency accommodation, or renting or living rent-free in transitional housing.
- House, townhouse or flat (couch surfing or with no tenure): dwelling type is House/townhouse/flat, and tenure type is no tenure or conditions of occupancy is couch surfing.
Clients are considered to be at risk if they are living in any of the following circumstances:
- Public or community housing (renter or rent free): dwelling type is house/townhouse/flat and tenure type is renter or rent-free in public housing, or renter or rent-free in community housing.
- Private or other housing (renter, rent-free or owner): dwelling type is house/townhouse/flat and tenure type is renter or rent free in private housing, life tenure scheme, owner―shared equity or rent/buy scheme, owner—being purchased/with mortgage, owner—fully owned, or other renter or rent free.
- Institutional settings: dwelling type is hospital, psychiatric hospital/unit, disability support, rehabilitation, boarding school/residential college, adult correctional facility, youth/juvenile justice correctional centre, aged care facility or immigration detention centre.
Clients who did not provide any information regarding the three aspects of their housing situation are classified as ‘not stated’.
In some cases, information about a client’s dwelling type, tenure and conditions of occupancy may be partially complete and therefore there is not enough information to assign a client to any of the specific housing situation criteria above. Where analysis and report content relates to these more detailed housing situation categories, those clients with incomplete information are grouped with other clients with missing data as ‘other/not stated’.
However, there may be enough information to determine whether the client is broadly homeless or at risk, in which case the client will be assigned to either ‘other - homeless or ‘other - at risk’ for some analysis.
More specifically, those allocated to ‘other – homeless’ includes clients who stated that they have ‘no tenure’ or that they are a ‘couch surfer’. Clients in the ‘other – at-risk’ category are clients that have stated a response to at least one of the three aspects of their housing situation but there is not enough information to classify them as homeless.
Please see the footnotes for each table or figure to confirm the inclusion or exclusion of ‘other’ and ‘not stated’ categories.
The homeless and at-risk categories are designed to, as far as is possible, align with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistical definition of homelessness (ABS 2012a). However, there are some key areas where alignment may not occur. The ABS definition includes people living in severely crowded dwellings and as no specific question on crowding is included in the SHSC, this group cannot be separately identified.
Also, the ABS exclude certain groups of people from the homeless count where they appear to have accommodation alternatives or where there is a clear choice about the type of accommodation (for example, people who are travelling, people returning from overseas, certain owner builder or hobby farmers, and students living in halls of residence). However, if people in these circumstances become clients of specialist homelessness agencies, they are included here as either homeless or at risk of homelessness, depending on their housing situation as reported.
The period of time a client receives services from a specialist homelessness agency is referred to as a support period. A support period starts on the day the client first receives a service and ends when:
- the relationship between the client and the agency ends
- the client has reached their maximum amount of support the agency can offer
- a client has not received any services from the agency for a whole calendar month and there is no ongoing relationship.
The end of the support period is the day the client last received services from the agency.
Calculating total length of accommodation (and total length of support)
To calculate accommodation and support length, every night (for length of accommodation) or day (for length of support) the client received support or accommodation in 2018–19 is added together. This means that the total number of days/nights presented for clients does not necessarily represent a consecutive number of days/nights the client received support/accommodation. For example, a client who received accommodation for 7 nights may have had 2 separate periods of accommodation: 1 for 5 nights and another for 2 nights.
Agency remoteness area
Agencies have been classified according to their remoteness area (RA) as defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Remoteness Structure (ABS 2016). The latest available version of the RA indicator (from the 2016 Census) has been developed by the ABS. The Remoteness Areas divide Australia into five classes of remoteness on the basis of relative access to services. Access to services is measured using the Accessibility and Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA+), developed by the Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research at the University of Adelaide. ARIA+ is derived by measuring the road distance from a point to the nearest Urban Centres and Localities in five separate population ranges.
Using this classification, agencies participating in the SHSC were assigned to an RA based on their recorded state, suburb, postcode and/or Local Government Area (LGA) values. Where available, a combination of these fields was used to assign RA for a given agency to improve accuracy.
Clients have been assigned to a region based on where they lived in the week before presenting to a SHS agency. Regions are defined by the 2016 Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), developed by the ABS (ABS 2016a).
Clients are assigned to only one region, based on the location details (locality, postcode and state/territory) provided in the first support period active in the reference year. The first support period is defined as the earliest starting support period active in the financial year.
Where there are multiple support periods that meet this criteria (i.e. share the same start date), a support period is randomly selected as the first support period.
In 2018–19, approximately 10% of clients could not be assigned to a statistical area 2 (SA2) region due to missing or incomplete address information.
Identifying and meeting service needs
Identifying clients’ needs for a service
The SHSC collects information on the needs of clients during their period of support from a specialist homelessness agency. Needs may be identified by the client and/or the service provider. Although this information is collected at the beginning of a support period, updated at the end of each month a client is supported and again at the end of each support period, each individual need is only recorded once in any collection month. For these analyses, a client need for a service is recorded if the client needed that service at any time in 2018–19. For example, a client is recorded as needing short-term accommodation if they were recorded as needing short-term accommodation in any collection month of 2018–19, regardless of the number of months over which this need was recorded, or the number of times during 2018–19 they presented with this need.
Meeting clients’ service needs
There are several aspects to analysing the extent to which clients’ needs for assistance are met. The first is to analyse the services provided to a client directly by the specialist homelessness agency. Where agencies are unable to provide services directly to clients or unable to fully meet the need they often refer the client to other organisations (either other specialist homelessness agencies or other organisations) that can provide those services. This information is also collected in the SHSC and is considered an important form of assistance that agencies provide, although it is not possible to know if these referrals resulted in the provision of services.
All information on services that are provided, whether referred or not, are recorded in the same way as service needs. That is, a service is recorded as provided if the client was provided that type of assistance at any time in 2018–19.
In some circumstances, an agency will not be able to either provide required services directly to clients, or refer them to another organisation—this is considered to be an unmet need. Further information about unmet needs can be found in the Unmet demand section of the report.
A client is considered as Indigenous if, in any support period in 2018–19, they identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.
In the SHSC, information on Indigenous status is only provided with explicit client consent to report this information. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander was not reported for 9% of clients in 2018–19.
Clients born overseas
A client is identified as overseas-born, if in the majority of support periods in 2018–19, they identified that their country of birth was a country other than Australia.
In the SHSC, information on country of birth is only provided with explicit client consent to report this information. Country of birth information was not reported for 14% of clients in 2018–19.
Young people presenting alone
Young people are defined as clients aged 15–24 who presented alone in their first support period in the reporting period.
The age of the client is defined as the client’s age on the start date of their first support period in the reporting period. For those who were ongoing clients at the beginning of the reporting period, the client’s age on the first day of the reporting period is used.
Older people are defined as clients aged 55 or older.
The age of the client is defined as their age on the start date of their first support period in the reporting period. For those who were ongoing clients at the beginning of the reporting period, the client’s age on the first day of the reporting period is used.
Clients who experienced family and domestic violence
SHSC clients were counted as experiencing family and domestic violence if any support period during the reporting period:
- ‘family and domestic violence’ was reported as a reason they sought assistance, or
- during any support period they required family or domestic violence assistance.
The SHSC reports on clients who are victims of family and domestic violence. Currently perpetrators family and domestic violence who may also be receiving assistance from a homelessness agency are not able to be identified within the SHSC.
Clients with a current mental health issue
A client was identified as having a current mental health issue if they provided any of the following information:
- They indicated that at the beginning of a support period they were receiving services or assistance for their mental health issues or had in the past 12 months.
- Their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a mental health service.
- They reported ‘mental health issues’ as a reason for seeking assistance.
- Their dwelling type either a week before presenting to an agency, or when presenting to an agency, was a psychiatric hospital or unit.
- They had been in a psychiatric hospital or unit in the last 12 months.
- At some stage during their support period, a need was identified for psychological services, psychiatric services or mental health services.
This analysis does not include clients aged under 10.
In the SHSC, information on a mental health issue is only provided with explicit client consent to report this information.
Clients on care and protection orders
A client is identified as being under a care or protection order if they are aged under 18 and have provided any of the following information in any support period (any month within the support period) during the reporting period (either the week before, at the beginning of the support period or during support):
- They reported that they were under a care and protection order (and the care arrangement was known).
- They have reported ‘Transition from foster care/child safety residential placements’ as a reason for seeking assistance, or main reason for seeking assistance.
In the SHSC, if a client is under the age of 18 and has a care and protection order, consent is required to determine their care arrangements.
Clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use
A client is identified as having problematic drug and/or alcohol use if they were aged 10 years or older and have provided any of the following information either at the beginning of support or in any support period during the reporting period (either the week before or at beginning of the support period):
- Their dwelling type was recorded as rehabilitation.
- Their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a drug and alcohol service.
- During their support they required drug/alcohol counselling.
- They have been in a rehabilitation facility/institution in the last 12 months.
- They have reported 'problematic drug or substance abuse' or 'problematic alcohol use' as a reason for seeking assistance or main reason for seeking assistance.
Clients leaving care
Clients are counted as transitioning from care arrangements if, in their first support period during the reporting period, either in the week before or at presentation:
- The dwelling type was: hospital (excluding psychiatric), psychiatric hospital or unit, disability support, rehabilitation or aged care facility, or
- Their reason for seeking assistance was transition from foster care/child safety residential placements or transition from other care arrangements.
Clients who were exiting custodial arrangements
Clients are counted as leaving a custodial setting if, in their first support period during the reporting period, either in the week before or at presentation:
- their dwelling type was: adult correctional facility, youth or juvenile justice detention centre or immigration detention centre or
- their reason for seeking assistance was: transition from custodial arrangements or
- their source of formal referral to the agency was: youth or juvenile justice detention centre, or adult correctional facility.
Some of these clients were still in custody at the time they began receiving support.
Children aged under 10 identified as exiting from adult correction facilities or youth/juvenile justice detention centres have been excluded because of concerns about the quality of the data, as children aged under 10 years cannot be charged with a criminal offence in any jurisdiction in Australia. Children aged under 10 transitioning from immigration detention centres have been retained in this group.
New and returning clients
Clients are identified in the SHSC as new clients if, in their first support period during the reporting period, they:
- had not previously been assisted by a specialist homelessness agency, at any time since the collection began in 2011–12.
Clients are identified as returning if, in their first support period during the reporting period, they:
- had previously been assisted by a specialist homelessness agency at any time since the collection began in 2011–12.
This measure provides contextual information about service use patterns.
Unassisted requests for services
Unassisted requests for services provide a measure of the number of instances where a person received no immediate services from a specialist homelessness agency. It is not a measure of the number of people who did not receive services from an agency. Numbers exclude multiple requests from the same person (at any agency) on the same day, but may include requests from the same person (at any agency) on different days.
The data are presented as a daily average of requests for services because the information that is used to create the SLK was not available for 47% of the unmet requests for service in 2018–19. Without a valid SLK, it is not possible to identify whether a person requested the same service more than once from the same agency or from different agencies on different days. Similarly, people who received services at a later date, thus becoming clients, cannot be identified where a valid SLK is not available.
Over recent years, a number of jurisdictions have made changes to services delivery models and in particular toward central intake service delivery models. In practice, these systems often require agency workers to provide assistance of some kind to all presenting individuals. Therefore, caution should be used when comparing data over time and between states and territories, particularly data relating to unassisted requests.