Prevention of Homelessness Consultation
New statutory duties for the prevention of homelessness
In December of last year the Scottish Government launched a joint consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in relation to the introduction of new prevention of homelessness duties. The consultation seeks input in relation to a package of measures proposed by the Prevention Review Group (PRG), a group tasked with advancing recommendations for legal duties on Scottish local authorities and wider public bodies to prevent homelessness. Views are sought from across a variety of sectors, in particular in relation to whether the recommendations are likely to achieve the stated aim of preventing homelessness at as early a stage as possible, and as to how these proposals could function in practice.
The proposed recommendations are split into two legislative strands:
- The introduction of new legal duties via a Housing Bill expected to be initiated in 2023; and
- The amendment of existing homelessness legislation.
Proposed Housing Bill 2023
If the proposals are incorporated into law, local authorities (and other public bodies) will have enhanced obligations towards individual service users who are at risk of homelessness. The consultation recommendations are guided by a person centred and trauma informed approach and aim to provide greater choice and control for those at risk of homelessness.
An overarching theme visible throughout the recommendations is the principle that the responsibility for homelessness prevention should be a shared public duty, rather than the sole responsibility of local authority homelessness services. For example, the PRG proposes the introduction of a duty on public bodies to “ask” and “act”. This principle would oblige public bodies to determine whether the people they are working with are at risk of homelessness or are currently homeless, and thereafter to act upon this information to assist with the housing issues experienced. Often, the public body would be required to refer the individuals at risk to the relevant local authority housing department. In addition to this overarching principle, the PRG recommendations include specific provisions targeted at certain service providers, such as teachers, medical practitioners and prison workers. If implemented, these recommendations would likely lead to local authorities receiving an increase in preventative homelessness service referrals.
Amendments to existing legislation
The PRG has also recommended that amendments should be made to the existing legislation in this area. Currently, local authorities have an obligation to assist anyone threatened with homelessness within the next 2 months (sections 24 and 32 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987). The PRG recommend that this duty should be extended to anyone threatened with homelessness within the next 6 months. It is anticipated that the implementation of this proposal would lead to less reliance by local authorities on economically inefficient temporary accommodation.
Currently, the type of accommodation that local authorities can utilise to the benefit of those experiencing homelessness is restricted by law to certain social and private tenancies. In order to give applicants greater choice and control over their living situation, the PRG recommends that the criteria for appropriate housing should instead focus on the stability and suitability of the accommodation. Accommodation will discharge the “stability” requirement where it is expected to be available for at least 12 months, whilst an assessment of the “suitability” of accommodation will include various factors, for example the proximity of the accommodation to relevant services. The proposals also contain certain safeguards that accommodation which is not a social or private tenancy must meet to be considered for discharge of duty.
Additional support for vulnerable groups
Evident in both areas of the proposals is the fact that individuals with protected characteristics or who are experiencing particularly difficult circumstances are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. One of the proposals for amendments to existing legislation obliges homelessness services to work with other services and voluntary sector partners to ensure that the needs of specific groups are met, for example, those experiencing domestic abuse or young people. Under the proposed amendment, local authorities would require to agree protocols and ways of working with relevant bodies in order to support this work.
Respond to the consultation
The proposals discussed in the consultation paper are numerous and the recommendations mentioned above are only a sample of these amended and increased obligations. Responses to these proposals should be submitted by 31 March 2022 using an online form.
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