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Welfare reform and the street level bureaucrat in homelessness services

Sarah Louise Alden (Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 8 June 2015

Issue publication date: 8 June 2015




Lipsky’s street level bureaucrat conceptual framework is employed to assist in understanding the ways in which statutory frontline homelessness practitioners are engaging with the current welfare reform agenda. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


Draws the street level bureaucrat framework. A national baseline survey of homelessness practitioners was followed by targeted qualitative interviews involving 12 local authorities in England.


Homelessness practitioners are facing a twofold crisis due to an increase in service users and corresponding decrease in feasible housing options or resources to tackle this. It was reported that effective service provision for all who required it was becoming increasingly difficult, which in turn fostered an environment in which unlawful gatekeeping practices could thrive. Further, it was found that a service user’s position may be additionally weakened due to the new powers conferred in the Localism Act.

Research limitations/implications

Qualitative data were limited to North East Authorities due to limited research resources.

Social implications

The current austere climate is negatively impacting upon the delivery of statutory homelessness provision. Differing implementation of the Localism Act will lead to inequitable service outcomes.


Application of the street level bureaucrat implementation framework to English homelessness services, a national survey of English frontline service delivery in an austere climate.



This project is sponsored by the University of Sheffield (registration number 110149154) and has been ethically approved by the Department of Sociological Studies ethics review. The author would like to acknowledge Professor Alan Walker for his inspiration, insightful comments and assistance with this paper.


Alden, S.L. (2015), "Welfare reform and the street level bureaucrat in homelessness services", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 35 No. 5/6, pp. 359-374.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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