We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Operation of the Homeless Persons Legislation in Scotland: 2014-15

Listen

Applications

(Table 1 to Table 5e and Chart 1 to Chart 10).

Trends

Chart 1 shows the number of homeless applications and the number of these assessed as homeless in each year between 1992-93 and 2014-15. The number of priority assessments is shown from 1992-93 until 2012-13 - the test was abolished on 31st December 2012. Changes in applications and assessments over this period have in part been driven by changes in legislation, policy and practice.

The increase in homelessness between 2000-01 and 2006-07 was, in part, a consequence of Scottish homelessness legislation[2] which extended councils' duties to non-priority homeless households.

The narrowing of the gap between the number of homeless and the number of priority homeless, from 2003-04 is primarily a consequence of action by local authorities to move towards the 2012 homelessness commitment - that by 31st December 2012 all homeless households will be assessed as being in priority need. The Section on Assessments provides more detail.

The reduction in homeless applications from 2006-07 and in particular the very large continuing reductions from 2010-11 are mainly due to the impact of the introduction of housing options services in Scottish local authorities with a focus on prevention.

Chart 1: Scotland: Number of applications and assessments under the homelessness legislation

Chart 1: Scotland: Number of applications and assessments under the homelessness legislation

Note: In November 2012 the Scottish Parliament approved the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012. With the priority need test now abolished, information on this aspect of the homelessness legislation is no longer collected.

Recent changes

Between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015 councils received a total of 35,764 homelessness applications (Table 1). This is a reduction of over 1,470 (4%) applications over the previous year.

The number of applications in 2014-15 is 41% lower than the peak value seen in 2005-06, when around 61,000 homelessness applications were made (Chart 1). However, the rate of decrease in applications is now slowing. The housing options approach may be able to prevent a certain number of households from becoming homeless. However, those that now apply as homeless may be more likely to be in crisis with less scope for intervention.

The 4% reduction in applications in Scotland is not being reflected uniformly across all 32 local authorities. During 2014-15 the number of applications has fallen in 19 out of 32 local authorities (Table 1b). In eleven councils the number of applications fell by up to 10% and in four councils - Argyll & Bute, Dumfries & Galloway, North Ayrshire and Orkney - the number of applications fell by over 20%. Applications have increased in thirteen local authority areas - Aberdeen City (14% increase), Dundee City (3% increase), East Ayrshire (58% increase), East Dunbartonshire (5% increase), East Lothian (5% increase), Eilean Siar (1% increase), Falkirk (15% increase), Moray (6% increase), North Lanarkshire (5% increase), Perth & Kinross (0.4% increase), Shetland (5% increase), Stirling (24% increase), and West Lothian (3% increase).

What has caused the overall reductions?

It is very unlikely that the large reduction in homelessness applications in Scotland in recent years is a consequence of any changes in the social and economic factors which cause households to approach councils for assistance with an acute or urgent housing need. Quite the contrary, all other things being equal, we might have expected homeless applications to increase in the current economic environment and also as a consequence of Welfare Reforms.

It is much more likely that the reductions are a consequence of a major Scotland wide approach to prevent homelessness. Through this, councils have been developing services, generally described as 'housing options services' in which staff assist households to consider the range of options available to address their housing needs. For example, councils might provide mediation services to assist in resolving disputes within the household, or they might assist households secure a private let by guaranteeing the rent deposit. As a consequence, some of the households who might previously have made a homelessness application will now have their housing needs met without first becoming homeless or being threatened with homelessness[3].

An Evaluation of the homelessness options hubs published in May 2012 showed that there was wide variation between councils in the speed of implementation of housing options/ homelessness prevention. The evaluation stated that it was not possible within the evaluation methodology to attribute all of the reduction in applications to the impact of the housing options approach. (Paragraph 2.14). The evaluation also notes in paragraph 3.30 that "[a number of local authorities] felt that the progress on housing options 'on the ground' has been very significant indeed". The evaluation, which only covered the start of the roll out of the approach, also went on to add that "a smaller number of local authorities are not in a position yet to have started to make progress."

The Scottish Housing Regulator published its thematic inquiry into housing options in Scotland in May 2014. The report summarised its findings by saying "Housing Options is a recent development and to date there has been no comprehensive evaluation of the policy. The limitations in guidance and the absence of a comprehensive monitoring framework are important factors in considering how Housing Options has been implemented so far. The introduction of mandatory data collection for local authorities provides a basis for a national evaluation of the policy."

Impact on Applications and Assessments

Housing options appears to be having a uniform impact across household types and age groups, at least at the Scotland level. Based on analysis of the HL1 homelessness data, there is no evidence to indicate that any one group is being impacted more by housing options work than any other.

However, whilst the number of applications has reduced, how these applications are assessed appears to be changing slightly. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, approximately 75% of cases were assessed as homeless or potentially homeless. However, by 2012-13, this proportion had increased by about six percentage points to 81%, and it has remained at this level in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The main reason for the change is a decrease in cases where contact was lost prior to the assessment decision being made. (Table 1c and Table 1d).

In summary, whilst housing options work is reducing the total number of applications overall, the evidence suggests that it is also reducing the number of lost contacts between the application and assessment stage.

Chart 1b: Scotland: What proportion of homelessness (HL1) applications had been through housing options (PREVENT1) first?

Chart 1b: Scotland: What proportion of homelessness (HL1) applications had been through housing options (PREVENT1) first?

Chart 1b shows the proportion of homeless applications received during 2014-15 which went through the housing options route first - the chart includes only housing option apporaches during 2014-15 as this is when mandatory recording commenced across all local authorities.

Across Scotland, 23,630 out of the 35,764 homeless applications (66%) received during 2014-15 had made a housing options approach prior to making a homelessness application. However, there is a marked variation across local authorities. For example:

  • In some local authorities, almost all of their homelessness applicants go through the housing options route prior to making a homelessness application. Examples of this are in South Ayrshire, Falkirk, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh and North Ayrshire, where over 90% of homeless applicants had been through the housing options route first.
  • In other local authorities, proportionately very few applicants go through housing options first. Examples of this are in Midlothian, East Lothian, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Orkney where only between 10% and 16% of applicants had been through the housing options route initially.
  • There are very low proportions of homeless applicants using housing options in a number of authorities. In Clackmannanshire only 10% of homelessness applicants had first been through the housing options route first, and this proportion was less than 5% for Eilean Siar, East Ayshire and East Dunbartonshire.

Characteristics of applicants

Of the 35,764 applications for assistance in 2014-15, around 23,800 (66%) were single people, of whom around 16,200 were men and 7,600 were women (Table 2). Around 9,800 applications (28% of applications) were from households with children, most of whom were single parent households (21% of all applications). Of the 7,460 applications by single parents, 5,861 (79%) were by female applicants. (Chart 2)

Overall, whilst the number of applications has changed over the last ten years, the profile of households has changed only slightly. The proportion of single parents has remained in the range 21% to 24% since 2002-03: the figure for 2014-15 was 21%. Since 2007-08 there was a small but noticeable increase in applications from single people, increasing at a rate of around one percentage point per annum, from 60% in 2007-08 to 67% in 2013-14. However, in 2014-15 it has fallen back to 66%. (Chart 2 and Table 2c).

Chart 2: Number of applications in 2014-15 by household type

Chart 2: Number of applications in 2014-15 by household type

Chart 3 shows the age distribution of the main applicant in the household, for those who applied as homeless in 2014-15. Homeless households have a young age profile - around half are headed by someone aged under 30 (47% in 2014-15). Female applicants typically have a slighter younger age profile than males - 42% of female applicants are aged under 25 while this figure is only 27% for male applicants.

Further to this, in comparing the age and sex of the main applicants for homelessness to the Scottish population, the difference in age profile becomes even more apparent. Chart 3 shows that males under 45 years old and females under 40 years old are over-represented in the homelessness statistics, when compared to the general population. Homeless applications from those aged under 20 are more likely to be female than male.

Chart 3: Age and sex of main applicants - all household types: Scotland 2014-15

Chart 3: Age and sex of main applicants - all household types: Scotland 2014-15

Notes:

1. Chart 3 is based upon the age and sex of main applicants, and the population according to the Scotland 2011 Census (http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/bulletin-figures-and-tables). Whilst the proportions in the Census are not strictly comparable with the proportion of main homelessness applicants in Chart 3 they are thought to provide a reliable proxy.

2. To aid visualisation, age band 65+ has been deliberately excluded in Chart 3. Age band 0 to 15 has been excluded as households have to be aged 16 or over to make a homelessness application. Around 2% of homeless main applicants are aged 65 or over, whilst the figure is 21% in the main population.

The proportion of homeless applications by ethnic group has remained unchanged since 2007-08. During 2014-15, in 90.0% of applications the main applicant was recorded as White, 1.5% were recorded as Black, Black Scottish or Black British, 1.2% were recorded as Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British and 4.0% as in other ethnic groups (Chart 4). An ethnic group was not recorded for 3.2% of all applicants.

Chart 4: Number of applications in 2014-15 by ethnic group of main applicant

Chart 4: Number of applications in 2014-15 by ethnic group of main applicant

Table C shows the number of homelessness applications, and assessments according to the categorisations in the 2011 census data. The lowest proportion of homeless applications is from the Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British category (32 per 10,000 population), the highest proportion from a known category is from the Caribbean or Black category (246 per 10,000 population), there were 1,342 applications from another, but unspecified ethnic groups (937 per 10,000 population). Polish homelessness applications accounted for 117 applications per 10,000 population. Higher rates of homelessness from some ethnic minotiry groups may be due to the way the asylum system operates. Once granted leave to remain following a successful asylum claim, households may then proceed to make a homelessness application as the route to obtain housing.

In 2014-15, 366 applicants were recorded by local authorities as being a gypsy / traveller at the time of application (869 per 10,000 population). However, there is a disconnect between applicants being recorded as gypsy/ travellers in the homelessness data and applicants citing their ethnicity as gypsy/ travellers. For example, of the 366 applicants who described themselves as gypsy/ traveller in the homelessness data, 68% gave their ethnicity as White: Scottish, and only 9% gave their ethnicity as White: Gypsy / Traveller. No response was given to the gypsy / traveller question in the homelessness dataset for 595 applicants in 2014-15.

In 2014-15, 918 homeless applicants had a household member who had previously been in the armed forces - the lowest number recorded to date. Of these, 256 had been in the armed forces less than 5 years ago and 662 more than 5 years ago. (Chart 5) It should be noted that, for 1,428 applications, the response to the question asking about service in the armed forces was 'not known/ refused'.

In the same period, 1,491 applicants aged under 25 had a household member who had been formerly looked after by the local authority, of whom 718 had been looked after within five years of making their homelessness application. (Chart 5). This was the lowest number of applications received from formerly looked-after people since recording began in 2007-08. It should be noted that for 1,212 applications, 'not known/ refused' was the response when asked if a member of the applicant household had been previously looked after by the local authority.

Chart 5: Number of applications formerly in the armed forces and number of applicants formerly looked after by the local authority in 2014-15: Scotland

Chart 5: Number of applications formerly in the armed forces and number of applicants formerly looked after by the local authority in 2014-15: Scotland

Prior circumstances of applicants

Of the 35,764 homelessness applications in 2014-15, 15,251 (43%) had been living with friends and relatives, while 12,433 (35%) had been living in their own accommodation (i.e. which they either rented or owned). There was a small increase in homeless applications from institutional accommodation (+200 applications) and this is mainly due to an increase in applications from supported accommodation in Glasgow.

There were 6,350 applications from households living in the private rented sector, a decrease of 168 applications (-3%) compared to 2013-14 (Table 3 and Chart 6). Whilst the proportion of applications from the private rented sector in Scotland has increased from 13% in 2007/8 to 18% in 2014-15, the number of applications has decreased in every year since 2010/11.

In contrast, the situation in England is very different. Households assessed as homelessness who were living in the private rented sector account for 30% of all english homelessness assessments. The ending of an assured shorthold tenancy in England has been the most frequently occurring reason for the loss of last settled home for the last eleven consecutive quarters[4].

Chart 6: Prior housing circumstances of applicants 2013-14 and 2014-15

Chart 6: Prior housing circumstances of applicants 2013-14 and 2014-15

Reasons for homelessness

The main reasons for applying as homeless have remained unchanged over the past year. Relationship breakdown is one of the main causes of homelessness applications. This is reflected in the high numbers of applicants who cite a dispute within the household (29% of all applications in 2014-15) or being asked to leave (25% of 2014-15 applications). (Table 4 and Chart 7). Rent arrears or mortgage default account for around 6% of all homelessness applications in 2014-15, while 7% of applications are from those leaving prison/ hospital/ care or some other institution.

Chart 7: Main reason for applying for assistance: All applications: Scotland: 2014-15

Chart 7: Main reason for applying for assistance: All applications: Scotland: 2014-15

In addition to the main reason for homelessness, the homelessness statistical return (HL1) allows applicants to identify factors which have also contributed to their homelessness. This reflects the fact that the causes of homelessness can be complex and not the result of a single incident or event. In 2014-15 additional contributory reasons were recorded for 52% of applications. (Tables 5d and 5e).

Of those cases where there was an additional factor contributing to homelessness. Chart 8 shows the following decreases in 2014-15:-

  • In 7,667 cases (41% of those providing additional reasons, down from 47% in 2013-14) it was 'not to do with the applicant household'. This includes reasons such as the landlord selling the property, fire, circumstances of other persons sharing the property or harassment by others.
  • In 3,325 (18%) of these cases 'financial difficulties, debt or unemployment' was an additional factor, down 3 percentage points from 2013-14.
  • Also, in 2,287 (12%) of cases criminal or anti-social behaviour was a factor, down 1 percentage point from 2013-14.

And Chart 8 shows the following increases in 2014-15:-

  • In 3,010 (16%) of these cases mental health reasons were cited as an additional factor, up 4 percentage points from 2013-14.
  • In 3,328 (18%) of these cases lack of support from friends and family was an additional factor, up 3 percentage points from 2013-14.
  • In 1,412 (8%) of these cases physical health reasons were cited, up 3 percentage points from 2013-14.
  • Also in 2,799 (15%) of these cases drug or alcohol dependency was an additional factor, up 1 percentage point from 2013-14.

Chart 8: Reason(s) for failing to maintain accommodation: Scotland

Chart 8: Reason(s) for failing to maintain accommodation: Scotland

Whilst this question is only answered by around half of all cases, the data does suggest that the support needs of homeless applicants relating to mental health, drug and alcohol dependency and physical health reasons may be increasing.

Financial and economic reasons for homelessness applications

There was a 4% increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15 in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a local authority (+12 homeless applications), an increase of 6% in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a housing association (+13 applications), and a reduction of 5% in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a private landlord (-50 applications) (Table 5a).

There was also a decrease of 182 applications (-35%) in those presenting as homeless because of mortgage default, from 513 applications in 2013-14 to 331 applications in 2014-15. (Table 5a).

The number presenting as homeless because of the forced division and sale of the matrimonial home dropped substantially from 725 in 2007-08, to 374 in 2008-09. Since then there have been around 340 applications per year due to forced divisions. During 2014-15, this reduced further to 181 applications, a reduction of 8% on the previous year.

In 2014-15, there were 1,984 applications (6% of applications) which cited rent arrears or mortgage default as the main reason for the application (Table 4). In all, 3,325 applications stated that financial difficulties/ debt/ unemployment were a contributory factor (Table 5d). The number of applications which gave financial difficulties as a contributing factor fell by 13% between 2013-14 and 2014-15 (from 3,833 to 3,325), and this reduction was much greater than the small reduction in all applications completing this question (from 18,525 to 18,511).

Applicants on Housing Lists

In 2014-15, 36% of homelessness applications were from households on a social housing list immediately prior to their homelessness application - this is one percentage point higher than in 2013-14. This proportion varied widely between councils from 99% in Perth & Kinross to 5% in South Ayrshire. (Chart 9) The response was 'Unknown/ Refused' for 975 of the 35,764 cases in 2014-15.

Chart 9: Percentage of applications in 2014-15 from households on a social housing waiting list immediately prior to their homelessness application

Chart 9: Percentage of applications in 2014-15 from households on a social housing waiting list immediately prior to their homelessness application

Rough sleeping

In 2014-15, 4% of applicants (1,409 in total or 117 per month) slept rough the night before applying for assistance (Chart 10). The incidence of rough sleeping among homeless applicants was highest in Glasgow (466 cases, 7% of applications), Aberdeen City (103 cases, 7% of applications), and Aberdeenshire (70 cases, 6% of applications) while fewer than 1% of applicants were recorded as sleeping rough the night before application in North Lanarkshire. No rough sleepers were reported in Falkirk, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian.

City of Edinburgh Council previously reported over 10% of applicants as sleeping rough the night before in 2013-14. However, after investigation it appears that there may have been a misunderstanding about what the question meant with some officers interpreting sofa surfing to be equivalent to rough sleeping. The proportion of applicants sleeping rough the ngiht before in Edinburgh has now reduced to under 3% in 2014-15.

Chart 10: Percentage of homeless applicants in 2014-15 who slept rough the night before applying for assistance

Chart 10: Percentage of homeless applicants in 2014-15 who slept rough the night before applying for assistance

The incidence of rough sleeping has fallen over the past year (1,506 in 2013-14 compared to 1,409 in 2014-15), but it has fallen by 49% in six years (2,745 in 2009-10). It has also been stable over these six years in some authorities (notably Glasgow). However, the majority of authorities have seen large decreases. (This information is contained in a supplementary table which follows on from the main tables; Table D).