This article reports on a study of local implementation in the UK Troubled Families Programme (TFP). Exploring the experiences of 12 families, the policies of local bureaucrats, and a critical reading of the literature, we argue that the local case represented an attempt to partially renegotiate disciplinary elements of the national programme and to recognise that the families were affected by structural poverty and inequality. Locating the TFP in the literature on disciplinary social policy, multi-scale ‘Fast Policy’ and the potential for local subversion through the agency of frontline workers, we suggest that the local attempts to renegotiate programme priorities were partially successful. These attempts were characteristic of ‘contingent coping’ in terms of both institutional processes and outcomes for the families involved. The evidence reported is significant and timely in the context of the expanded and relaunched TFP and this shapes our commentary on the recently published Improving Lives strategy.