In 2018 Scottish Government and COSLA published the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, informed by recommendations received from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) and in June 2020 this group was reconvened to review the current joint approach, in light of action taken to tackle homelessness during Covid-19, including 104 recommendations submitted by HARSAG.
Legislation was introduced during Covid-19 to minimise the risk of evictions into homelessness, including new pre-action protocols for private rented sector landlords. There has also been a significant increase in the money available to local authorities for crisis grants and discretionary housing payments and money invested into advice services. One of the approaches considered to work best, Housing First, is planned to be scaled up more rapidly, and the action plan calls for an end to night shelters and dormitory style provision in future. To support this transition will be the establishment of rapid rehousing welcome centres to provide an under-one-roof triage service to people experiencing the most acute forms of homelessness.
Equality is the thread running through the updated action plan and there is a renewed focus to strengthen the voice of lived experience in the policy-making process; advancing legislative protections for people experiencing domestic abuse; and exploring alternative routes to reduce migrant homelessness.
The next formal report to parliament on progress will be in October 2021.
Homelessness in Scotland
Scotland’s Homelessness statistics covering 2019-2020 saw 36,855 applications for homelessness assistance in 2019/20. There were 31,333 households assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness in 2019/20. This is an increase of 1,097 (4%) compared to 30,236 in 2018/19.
11,665 households were in temporary accommodation at 31st March 2020, an increase of 676 (6%) compared to 10,989 at 31st March 2019 and of these 7,280 were children, an increase of 485 (7%) compared to 6,795 at 31st March 2019.
There were 4,595 cases of homeless households not being offered temporary accommodation in 2019/20. 3,835 of these were in Glasgow and 500 breaches of the unsuitable accommodation order in 2019/20, compared to 645 in 2018/19, 375 of these were in Edinburgh.
Like in the rest of the UK, councils in Scotland were ordered to house all rough sleepers in self-contained accommodation at the start of the pandemic, leading to thousands being placed temporarily in hotels or similar. When the initial lockdown was introduced empty homes, hotels and student halls of residence around Scotland were made available for homeless people.
Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan Approach 1: A person-centred approach
The report outlines that to be most effective services should be trauma-informed, person-centred and tailored to reflect individual needs and circumstances. Homelessness is often linked to more complex needs and difficult life and institutional experiences.
Scottish Government is committed to developing a trauma-informed workforce across Scotland, supported by over £1.5 million investment in a national trauma training programme. This programme has now delivered face-to-face training to over 7000 people across Scotland’s public services.
It is recommended that the policy process be informed by up-to-date evidence, taking into account ideas and lived experience of homelessness, working closely with the Change Team and Prevention Commission from Homeless Network Scotland.
The person-centre approach also includes the importance of promoting equality, personal housing plans, child wellbeing assessments, digital access and working with partners in the housing sector to challenge stigma and improve public perceptions of homelessness.
Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan Approach 2: Preventing Homelessness from happening in the first place
Homelessness causes are complex and interrelated such as poverty, inequality, relationship breakdown, job loss, bereavement and domestic abuse. The action plan recommends there should be a shift in the balance of services and response towards prevention.
Over the last ten years far greater resources have been invested by local authorities in prevention and the recently introduced rapid rehousing transition plan has prevention at the core. Investment from Scottish Government has been made in the form of an extra £22 million available to local authorities to increase the financial support available through the Scottish Welfare Fund and over 2020/21 there will be £10 million invested by Scottish Government in welfare and debt services.
The Homelessness Prevention Fund was also introduced in August 2020, administered by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. It will provide up to £1.5 million over three years to Scottish housing associations, social landlords and cooperatives to support the development of programmes to prevent homelessness.
Ending Homelessness Together outlines the commitment of Scottish Government for a joint approach to work closely with COSLA, local authorities and the third sector. In January 2020 Scottish Government introduced a funding pot of £4.5 million called The Third Sector Homelessness Fund for third sector organisations on the frontline of delivering homelessness services in Scotland. The fund will run over three years and is being managed by Corra Foundation on behalf of Scottish Government, the purpose being to innovate and transform services that the third sector provide, in line with the original 2018 Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan.
A joint approach will ensure a more streamlined application process, with information sharing powers helping local authorities to target people who are most in need of support and encourage people in need to apply for discretionary housing payments.
Alongside the temporary measures introduced through the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, where the notice period was increased for up to six months across all eviction grounds in the private and social rented sector, Section 11 of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 requires social and private sector landlords to give notice to the local authority of their intention to seek repossession of a home, in order to give the local authority warning of the need to provide information and support to the tenant at risk of homelessness.
Ending Homelessness Together calls on the strengthening of the social security system by UK Government including an increase in local housing allowance rates, suspension of the benefits cap, ending of the five week wait for benefits to start, scrapping the bedroom tax, enabling of the three month rule when claiming universal credit, and extending the current suspension of direct deductions from benefits to repay third party debts.
Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan Approach 3: Prioritising homes for all
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enshrines the right to adequate housing as a human right. UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities therefore have an obligation to protect and promote people’s right to adequate housing.
Rapid rehousing, making sure that anyone experiencing homelessness is helped into permanent accommodation as quickly as possible, was one of the main recommendations in the HARSAG first Action Plan in 2018. All 32 local authorities have rapid rehousing transition plans and have been implementing them for over a year.
Housing First is an important component of the rapid rehousing approach, offering settled accommodation and wraparound support to people with multiple and complex needs. Housing First will continue to be funded by Scottish Government in the pathfinder areas of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling until the end of March 2022.
Despite a slowing of progress due to COVID-19, by the end of August 2020, 306 tenancies had been set up with a tenancy sustainment rate of 87% and none of the tenants have faced eviction from their permanent home.
COSLA and Scottish Government have a shared ambition outlined in Ending Homelessness Together to see a significant increase in the proportion of social homes. To end homelessness there is an urgent need for housing that provides people on low incomes with security, decent living conditions and affordable rents. Greater availability of social housing has been identified as the most important resource needed to help local authorities meet the needs of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Between 2016 and March 2020, 34,791 affordable homes were delivered.
Maximising housing options are being examined through a range of measures including the affordable housing supply programme, the Rural and Islands Housing Fund, the Building Scotland Fund, the Housing Infrastructure Fund and build-to-rent. Many local authorities also already work with the private sector to increase the availability of private rented stock for people who are at risk of homelessness either through rent deposit guarantee schemes or private rented sector access schemes.
Perth and Kinross Council has a well-established range of private sector initiatives which have assisted more than 1,500 households to access good quality accommodation in the private rented sector since 2009/10. The council has an in-house social letting agency, PKC Lets. Empty homes work is linked into the private rented sector team, and grants are offered to owners of empty homes on condition that properties are rented at local housing allowance rate levels for at least five years.
In January 2020, Scottish Government announced that local authorities would be given new powers to regulate the density and standards of short-term lets and are aiming to give local authorities powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas so that they can be in force by spring 2021. These powers will allow local authorities to balance the need for more homes and the concerns of their communities with wider economic and tourism interests. A consultation was launched on 14th September 2020 on regulating short-term lets.
A consultation on what housing should look like in the future was also carried out, and the Housing to 2040 route map is expected to be published later in 2020. This will be used to set out a 20-year plan and focus government investment to deliver good quality, energy efficient, zero carbon housing with access to outdoor space, transport links, digital connectivity, community services and the continued investment in delivering affordable housing.
Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan Approach 4: Responding quickly and effectively whenever homelessness happens
The pandemic highlighted challenges of infection control in dormitory-style settings and there is a planned move away from night shelter provision in favour of rapid and settled housing options. Scotland’s night shelters closed at the start of the pandemic and have not reopened. Instead, people were accommodated in hotels and other self-contained accommodation.
However, hotels and other emergency accommodation are a short-term solution to homelessness, more sustainable options are needed both for individuals and for local authorities so that people are supported into a settled home that keeps them safe and meets their needs.
The task of supporting people with no recourse to public funds who are experiencing homelessness and destitution during Covid-19 has been left to the third sector, local authorities and devolved governments, using the limited powers they have.
COSLA has published guidance for local authorities setting out how they can fulfil their safeguarding duties towards people with no recourse to public funds during this period. The Scottish Government has also introduced emergency legislation (the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020) so all overseas visitors in Scotland – regardless of their immigration status – will not be charged for the diagnosis and treatment of the coronavirus.
A homelessness code of guidance was published in November 2019. The updated code reflects best working practice and current relevant legislation and assists local authorities to deliver the best possible service to households who experience homelessness or are threatened with homelessness.
Endling Homelessness Together Action Plan Approach 5: Join up planning and resources to tackle homelessness
There is a strong relationship between homelessness and health in Scotland, and clear evidence of a relationship between repeat homelessness, drugs, alcohol and mental health. Cross public sector homelessness prevention is vital and remains a central priority to this plan.
Ending Homelessness Together outlines that Public Health Scotland will join forces with health and social care partnerships to explore what further contribution can be made to tackling and preventing homelessness.
Dundee Survival Group is a charity providing accommodation with housing support to people experiencing homelessness in Dundee. They’re implementing this joined up approach working in partnership with the Housing Service and Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership on a ‘Test of Change’ project, providing wheelchair-accessible flats as step-down accommodation. This helps to provide early discharge from hospital for people made homeless because their accommodation is no longer suitable for them post-treatment.
Ending Homelessness Together wants to further explore how local housing strategies and personal housing plans might incorporate employability support for people at risk of homelessness as part of the housing options service. Work on employment support led by local councils will ensure that tailored support is available to those who need it. Local authorities should ensure that employment and housing support is provided in a joined-up way so that people are fully aware of the range of help and advice available to them.
Ending Homeless Together highlights that Scottish Government will work with local authorities, the Social Housing Regulator and other partners to review the homelessness data collection to improve understanding of the causes of homelessness and outcomes and improve data on people with protected characteristics, this will inform development of equality impact assessments. It is also noted that not all households experiencing homelessness approach their local authority for support, so a person-centred approach through lived experience should guide planning and implementation of support to remedy this.
However, there are considerable local government funding pressures, further exacerbated by the pandemic and questions remain how councils can afford to fund services to eliminate homelessness and balance all the competing demands. Scottish Government revenue funding to councils has reduced in real terms between 2013/14 and 2019/20, while national policy initiatives with ring-fenced funding make up an increasing proportion of council budgets. This reduces the flexibility councils have for deciding how they plan to use funding.
Scottish Government reconvened the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) in June 2020, to reconsider the government’s homelessness policies in light of Covid-19. This latest series of recommendations endorse rapid rehousing as the key approach in preventing and resolving homelessness in Scotland. Ending Homelessness Together 2020 plan recommends moving away from night shelters and dormitory-style provision and working closely with local authorities to scale up Housing First more rapidly and ensure a significant increase in the number of social and affordable homes. A joint approach between Scottish Government, local authorities and the third sector is key to success.
The five broad approaches included in the action plan for ending homelessness include a person-centred approach, and driving policy from those who have lived experienced of homelessness; focus and investment in prevention measures; homes for all, including social and affordable homes and maximising housing options; responding quickly and effectively whenever homelessness does occur; and interlinked planning and resources to tackle homelessness, including Public Health Scotland and local authority employability support.
Alongside the approaches to take included in the Ending Homelessness Together action plan a guide for Scotland’s 32 local authorities has also been published, developed by Crisis and Homeless Network Scotland, summarising more than 100 recommendations from HARSAG.
New approaches and ways of tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in Scotland, developed from the Covid-19 crisis, have presented opportunities to move away from outdated and temporary measures, to more secure, permanent homes for all.