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Blog: Capturing Human Rights considerations in your notes on housing

Working alongside our housing and homelessness sector colleagues to embed human rights aligned practices, a recurring question arises: “How do I demonstrate human rights consideration in my file notes?”

We have prepared five simple tips to help you capture your human rights consideration and provide clarity in complex and emotion fuelled situations.

  1. Identify the decision points!

Lots of decisions are made as you deliver social services. Some decisions are yours, some decisions are your clients’, and some decisions belong to other service providers. You only need to give proper consideration to your service decisions and identifying these decisions can be harder than you think.

For example: We have undertaken an intake assessment with X.

    • Your decisions: Is this client eligible for our service? What services will we provide?
    • Your client’s decision: Do I want to re-establish contact with my children?
    • Another service provider’s decision: Is X able to re-establish contact with their children?

When supporting your clients to make their own decisions you can only offer information and advice. Your client’s decisions don’t need to factor into your human rights consideration.

For the decisions belonging to other service providers, you have a different role again. As many service providers are also public entities you can support service collaboration using the language of human rights consideration and working together may improve everyone’s understanding of the whole situation.

In following organisational procedures you may not realise all your decision-making points and therefore, that you may be making rights limiting decisions. For clarity around your decision-making points, discuss with colleagues and take the time to consistently identify service decisions that require human rights consideration.  Your file note should clearly identify what actual decision was taken.

  1. Be clear about the desired outcome

Your regular file notes provide you with a great opportunity to clarify and update the purpose or outcome you and the service user are working towards. Being clear about your purpose will help guide your decision-making.

Your file note might read: “X would like to re-establish themselves after being in prison. This will include learning how to maintain a home as well as meet their tenancy and neighbourly obligations.”

  1. Identify rights and describe the impact

The third file note tip is: clearly note the human rights engaged by the decision. As you take the time to understand a person’s situation, you’ll be able to identify any human rights that are at risk or limited in their situation and relate to the decision you’re about to make. Human rights restrictions can change over time, so documenting human rights can highlight the impact of changing circumstances. Also remember to consider all of the people involved in the situation.

Your file note might read: “X is staying with their brother’s family, they sleep in the lounge room and X understands that this is not a long-term housing solution. This living arrangement is impacting X’s right to privacy and reputation while also limiting the brother and his family’s right to privacy and reputation, and their protection of family and children, in how they use their home and can conduct themselves as a family unit.

It is worth noting, those staff who took the time to identify human rights in their file notes felt more confident to use the 23 protected human rights in discussions and decision-making. Whether this was with their client or when collaborating with other services. Others mentioned identifying rights was the trickiest bit.

  1. Explain the compatibility of any decisions that you have made

After identifying a decision, a further step is to clearly document whether or not it is compatible with human rights. The time you spend documenting this will vary depending upon the significance of the decision.

You can test the compatibility of your decision by asking yourself five key compatibility questions. If you answer ‘no’ to any of them (is the decision lawful? Purposeful? Rational? Necessary? Fair and balanced?) you may need to reconsider your decision.

Your file note might read: “X’s right to protection of family and children and the right to equality are limited as they do not have access to their children. Protection orders are in place to protect the right to liberty and security of their former partner and children. We have allocated X a one-bedroom unit due to the limited availability of 3-bedroom houses. This decision achieves our purpose of housing X and does not unduly restrict his rights, it also balances up fairly against the rights of his children and partner to stay safe. Should X take on regular care for the children overnight we will look to transfer the tenancy to a multi-bedroom dwelling’.

  1. Document your justification in real time

As we all know, situations can change quickly. Taking the time to document the justification for you decision will provide future workers with the context and information you weighed up at the time the decision was made.  This can be more than just human rights consideration. Naturally, broader issues like availability of housing stock also factor into our decisions.

Your file note might read: “X was allocated a one-bedroom property in a small unit complex. At the time of allocation there were limited detached dwellings available and X was unsure how to clean and maintain a home by themselves. We discussed the close proximity of neighbours and X felt after the communal living arrangement in prison X would welcome the privacy of a unit and it would help to know people were close by. We discussed how X planned to interact with neighbours and understood their apprehension about welcoming a new neighbour. It was clear X intended to sustain this tenancy and was prepared to engage with support workers acknowledging that it could be difficult at times”.

File notes not only record facts, they also provide a time stamp. File notes are a great place to clarify your understanding of a situation and record the decisions made. By following a process and using a few simple tips, you can ensure that you will always be able to demonstrate your human rights consideration.

For further information about giving consideration to human rights, take a look at QCOSS’s four-step process.


This blog is informed by the work of the QCOSS Human Rights, Housing and Homelessness project. To find out more visit the QCOSS website.