Thames Reach
Friday 17 November 2017
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Direct employment

Thames Reach encouraged people with a personal history of homelessness to apply for all job vacancies.

The purpose of direct employment is to help achieve Thames Reach’s aim of increasing the number of employees in its workforce with a current or former experience of homelessness.

Thames Reach aimed to have at least 10% of its workforce with an experience of homelessness by June 2007. The more recent target is 15% by the end of 2009.

Thames Reach traineeships are one route into an organisation’s workforce but direct employment focuses on all other vacancies.

Why encourage service users to apply for all vacancies?

As a homelessness charity, it is important that Thames Reach’s recruitment practices enable it to build the desired diversity profile of its workforce - one that represents the community it works in and the people it works for.

A personal history of homelessness and the perspective it can bring to an employees’ work, at whatever level, is valued by Thames Reach.

Changing recruitment practices to encourage direct employment

Thames Reach conducted a brief piece of research to ascertain whether service users felt encouraged to apply for jobs within the organisation and what might prevent them from doing so. 

Based on their responses and further ideas from Thames Reach’s staff, the following changes were made to our recruitment procedures. These changes were made to ensure that there were no structural barriers stopping current and former homeless people from applying to all vacancies.


  • External advertisements now include the following Equality & Diversity statement:

"Committed to achieving a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve, we especially encourage suitable applicants with a history of homelessness, with disabilities and from black and ethnic-minority groups."

  • Person specifications for posts now include the following essential criteria:

"A depth of understanding of the needs and aspirations of homeless people which is based either on your own personal experience of being homeless or professional work or voluntary experience."

  • Person specifications for posts no longer include criteria that requests a period of work experience (e.g. 2 years experience working with vulnerable people), with the exception of some specialist posts. These changes to the person specification reflect Thames Reach’s aim to move towards a full competency-based recruitment and appraisal system for all staff in the organisation.

  • The application form used for all vacancies now includes a section where applicants can provide information on their homelessness history and applicants are encouraged to explain any gaps in their employment which are due to homelessness.

  • The references section on the application form also explains that if there are gaps in employment caused by homelessness, references can be obtained from other professionals, for example key workers and hostel managers.

  • Thames Reach was mindful not to lower standards (one of the key principles of the GROW project) and thus kept the requirement for the full 3 years of most references.

  • The guidelines on completing the application form have been revised and are now more user-friendly. They highlight that if an applicant has experienced any periods of homelessness, these are viewed by Thames Reach as a valuable experience.

  • The Equality and Diversity Monitoring form was also revised and now includes categories relating to homelessness experience and past service use. These changes have ensured that Thames Reach are able to periodically and systematically monitor the changes in the demographics of our workforce.

Thames Reach did not find these changes difficult to implement. The senior management team was consulted and agreed to these changes and to develop a competency framework.

The changes were published to the corporate management team and to senior and team managers who then cascaded this information to their services, teams and to their service users.

Results of the changes

Did the changes to recruitment practices led to an increase in the number of employees with a personal history of homelessness?

As of 31st March 2007, 41 members of staff (11%) recorded themselves as having a personal experience of homelessness.

A statistical analysis was performed from our equality and diversity monitoring data on:

  • All applicants who applied for vacancies

  • All interviewed applicants for vacancies

  • All appointed applicants for vacancies

The periods examined were the quarter immediately leading up to the changes made to the recruitment procedures (December 2006 – February 2007) and the quarter immediately following the changes (March 2007 – May 2007).

December 2006 – February 2007 is described below as Quarter 1 and March 2007 – May 2007 is described as Quarter 2.

Applicants applying for the GROW traineeships were excluded from the analysis in order that the results were not skewed towards the quarter in which trainee vacancies appeared.

The findings below only include data for vacancies that were at some point externally advertised (these vacancies may have also been advertised internally). Applicants who applied for vacancies that were only advertised internally were excluded from the data.

  • The percentage of all applicants with an experience of homelessness increased from 15.7 (Quarter 1) to 17.2 (Quarter 2)

  • The percentage of applicants with an experience of homelessness that were interviewed increased from 12.4 (Quarter 1) to 15.4 (Quarter 2)

  • The percentage of applicants with an experience of homelessness appointed increased from 9% (Quarter 1) to 14% (Quarter 2)

Recently, the period April 2007 – June 2007 was analysed and this period demonstrated a further increase in the total number of applicants (18.1%), those interviewed (24%) and those appointed (38%), with a personal experience of homelessness.

Feedback has also been received from members of recruitment panels who feel these changes have opened up vacancies to allow those with different experiences, including those with backgrounds of homelessness, to apply.

Andy Lillicrap, Team Manager of Southwark Reach, said that once these changes had been implemented:

“Recruitment panels saw a new group of applicants. These were people who would not have met our previous requirement for 2 years' experience.

"However, through volunteering or their own experiences of using services they were able to show a powerful and deep understanding of the issues facing vulnerable people and how best to engage them with support.

"Invariably, these application forms exuded a passion for our work and we found ourselves keen to meet these applicants.”

What else can be done?

It is also important to remember those that already work for your organisation, who may have an undisclosed experience of homelessness. This information can be captured by making improvements to recording and monitoring practices.

At Thames Reach we informed all our employees of the information on homelessness that we had recorded for them. Those that were recorded as not having an experience of homelessness but did in fact have a history of homelessness were asked, if they wished to do so, to let us know if the data was incorrect. A significant number of current employees did disclose their experience of homelessness.