Key data quality information: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2021–22
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 2021–22 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 3 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'. 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.
The addition of ‘Other’ to the Sex item: On 1 July 2019, Sex = Other was introduced to both the Client and Unassisted persons components of the SHSC. This change had minimal impact on the collection with 0.8% of clients identifying as Sex = Other in 2019–20, in 2020–21 this was 0.4%, and in 2021–22 this was 0.5%. However, this change has meant that there has been a break in time series for some clients as their SLK (client identifier) has changed to reflect their change in recorded sex.
This change has also been implemented differently across states and territories with much higher numbers of clients identifying as Sex = Other in some states and in the unassisted collection. The Sex = Other option may have also been applied by some agencies to young children where their sex was not obvious or for those who did not want to state their sex.
Due to these issues, as well as the confidentiality concerns that accompany small numbers of clients, those clients identifying as Sex = Other have been included in the ‘Female’ category when reporting the data for 2021–22. This merging of Sex = Other clients with Female clients has not caused any impact on the validity of Female clients for 2021–22 as the number of Sex = Other clients is so small.
As more data is collected, and the data quality of this item improves, AIHW will review how this data is presented.
Data issues that require caution when making comparisons
Over the years there have been several changes made by jurisdictions to specialist homelessness service delivery models and policies. If making jurisdictional comparisons over time please read the SHSC Data Quality Statement to ensure all these changes are considered in the analysis.
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: Children may be reported as presenting alone to a SHS agency for several reasons:
It is possible that a child physically presented with an adult to an agency, but only the child required and received SHSC services. In this case, the child is reported as “presenting alone” as the accompanying adult does not have an SHSC support period that can be linked to the child client.
Alternatively, a child may have presented with an adult to a SHS agency and both received services, but the agency worker may not have properly linked the child to the accompanying parent/guardian when opening a support period for the child; hence the child is reported as presenting alone.
Service was sought by and provided to the child only (without an accompanying adult) and therefore the child is the only client and is reported as 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.
This issue is not specific to discrete jurisdictions. Caution should be used when comparing data between age groups for children presenting alone generally, and when comparing data between 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.
Unmet need: South Australia’s recorded level of unmet need (i.e. service not provided or referred) for services other than accommodation are likely understated due to a different data collection method. Caution should be used when comparing unmet need data for South Australia with other states and territories.
Services and Assistance: Assertive outreach: In 2017–18, a clarification was 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.
COVID-19: From 26 March 2020, SHS agency workers were instructed to add ‘COVID-19’ in the free text section of the ‘Other reason for seeking assistance’ item if the client and/or the agency were affected directly or indirectly by the crisis. This change has been implemented differently across jurisdictions and therefore caution should be taken if making any comparisons between jurisdictions.
Funding for COVID-related social support was also implemented differently across jurisdictions and SHSC data only includes services delivered where funding was provided to SHS agencies.
More detailed information on the responses by state and territory government to the COVID-19 pandemic is available in the Specialist Homelessness Services: monthly data report.
Improvements to data items
Mandatory data items: Changes made in 2014–15 resulted in substantial data quality improvements 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 in publications from December 2018 onwards that include 2017–18 data with previously issued publications.
Family and domestic violence: In July 2019 the following changes were made to improve the collection of information regarding family and domestic violence (FDV) in the SHSC:
The inclusion of an ‘FDV agency’ option in the ‘Formal sources of referral’ item to capture clients referred from non-SHS funded FDV services.
A change to the ‘Services and assistance’ received item to separately identify clients who received services for ‘FDV victims’ and/or services for ‘FDV perpetrators’.
The inclusion of an FDV services category to the ‘Type of service requested’ in the unassisted persons component of the SHSC.
These changes have not resulted in any break in time series as the addition of the new FDV referral item has only increased the number of FDV clients by 0.5% for 2019–20. The change to collect both victim and perpetrator services can also be combined to reflect the general FDV services item used prior to 1 July 2019.
The data distinction between victim and perpetrator services has not been widely reported in 2021–22. This is due to the change being implemented differently between agencies causing data quality issues, as well as the small numbers of perpetrator services provided resulting in confidentiality issues.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Clients: On 1 July 2019, a question was added to record a client’s main language spoken at home. In 2021–22, this language spoken at home question was answered for the majority of clients. On 1 July 2019, a follow up question was also added for those who did not speak English as a main language at home, to collect information on how proficient the client feels they are at speaking English. In 2021–22, the English proficiency question was less well reported, with high proportions of ‘don’t knows’ for the majority of jurisdictions. Therefore, caution should be taken when using this data for 2021–22. These questions have been added to strengthen the data collected regarding clients from CALD backgrounds.
Clients with disability: On 1 July 2019 a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) indicator was included to capture the number of clients who were receiving an agreed NDIS package of support at the time of presentation to a SHS agency. This indicator was introduced to strengthen information regarding clients with a disability.
This indicator has not been well reported in 2021-22, with high proportions of ‘don’t know’ responses for some states and territories. Therefore, caution should be used when comparing data across states and territories.
State and territory specific issues
New South Wales
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 2015–16. The increase in client numbers in New South Wales is largely a result of the consolidation of new post-reform service models. Caution should be used when making comparisons of 2014–15 data with other years’ figures for New South Wales and with data for other states and territories.
New South Wales began implementing the Domestic Violence Response enhancement in late 2015–16. This service change may be responsible for the increase in the number of SHS clients reporting domestic and family violence.
Victorian client numbers are relatively high and appropriate caution should be applied when making comparisons with other states and territories. The main reason for the high client count is that the Victorian system is very demand-driven, with the vast majority of presenting individuals provided initial assessment and planning at homelessness entry point (or central intake) services. In addition, there is a high number of women and children who are referred by police to homelessness-funded family violence services.
From 2017–18 to 2021–22, there was a 13% decrease in the total number of Victorian homelessness clients and a 19% decrease in family violence clients following years of steady increases in these numbers. The decrease was initially due to a practice correction as to when a client was recorded, and it has continued due to a phased process to shift family violence intake to non-SHS services.
In addition, during 2018–19, a phased process to shift family violence intake to non-SHS services (The Orange Door) began, which is decreasing the overall number of SHS family violence clients. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 caused a further drop in clients due to the months of ‘stay home’ orders in Victoria, rental eviction moratorium and availability of income through JobKeeper/JobSeeker.
Caution should be used when comparing Victorian client numbers over recent years.
In 2014–15, Queensland introduced the government-funded Queensland Homelessness Information Platform (QHIP), comprising the Common Homelessness Assessment and Referral Tool (CHART) and the Vacancy Capacity Management System (VCMS). Funded specialist homelessness services are required to use QHIP to assist with the demand for homelessness services. This practice approach may be responsible for the decline in the reported number of individuals leaving a service ‘unassisted’ through the provision of a connected service system, service coordination and subsequent referral to support clients with other service needs.
In July 2021, South Australia implemented a reform of the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) sector and established five Alliances, to service the complex and evolving needs of clients experiencing or at risk of homelessness across South Australia. The data migration processes to align SHS agencies and client data records to the Alliance model involved closing support periods of clients being supported by participating agencies and starting a new support period under the Alliance SHS agency. This has subsequently impacted on reporting, in particular, an under-reporting of clients assisted by SHS and their service provision across cohorts in July to September 2021, the forced cessation of clients’ ongoing support from 30 June 2021 and an over-reporting of the total number of support periods as clients were re-entered into the system. Caution should therefore be used when comparing 2021–22 results with other years.
In 2014–15, Housing Tasmania began the implementation of the Housing Connect model in order to improve access to housing and homelessness support services within Tasmania. The introduction of the Housing Connect model resulted in the creation of a number of new agencies in Tasmania. The aim of the model is to unite multiple housing and support organisations and provide a ‘no wrong door’ solution for Tasmanians that require assistance. This new central intake system had a minor flow on effect on a number of data items; therefore, comparisons over time should be made with caution.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory closed a large agency due to a change in contract to supply these services at the end of June 2016. As a result, all existing clients of this agency had their support periods closed prior to becoming clients under the new management. This resulted in a rise in the number of closed support periods in the Australian Capital Territory between 2014–15 and 2015–16, even though the numbers of total support periods and clients declined slightly for this same period. This may affect analyses involving closed support periods for 2015–16 for the Australian Capital Territory. Accordingly, these data should be used with caution when making comparisons with past years’ figures for the Australian Capital Territory or with data for other states and territories.
In 2016–17, the Australian Capital Territory introduced a new central intake service delivery model. In practice, this system requires agency workers to provide assistance of some kind to all presenting individuals. Therefore, caution should be used when comparing data over time and with data for other states and territories, particularly data relating to unassisted requests.
A new Northern Territory agency began reporting to the collection in January 2019. The high volume of clients and the nature of the services provided by the agency have impacted results across the data collection, with the full impact being evident in the 2019–20 data. Caution should be used when making comparisons between data before and after 2018–19.
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, including publications using SHS longitudinal data, and publications using SHS data linked with data from other collections, do not use weighted data.