Unsuitable Accommodation Order legislation
The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 included powers to limit the use of bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation for families and children. This power was used to introduce the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004, which required local authorities to ensure that homeless households with children and pregnant women are not placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation unless exceptional circumstances apply.
In 2014, the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order limited the time that local authorities could place homeless applicants that were pregnant or a household which includes dependent children in temporary accommodation that was unsuitable for no longer than 14 days, and only where the local authority had no suitable accommodation immediately available. This order replaced the 2004 Order. Unsuitable accommodation is defined in the order as accommodation which does not meet standards relating to physical properties of the accommodation, its proximity to health and education services and its suitability to be used by children. Consequently the use of B&Bs for such households is deemed unreasonable.
The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2017 reduced the maximum time spent in unsuitable accommodation from 14 days to 7 days for the same group i.e. pregnant applicants and households with dependent children, but there is no definition of unsuitable accommodation for any other groups, and therefore no limit on the time other groups can spend in unsuitable accommodation.
The definition of what constitutes unsuitable for pregnant applicants and households with dependent children refers to the location of the accommodation, the quality of the accommodation and the facilities that are available there.
A property would be deemed as unsuitable if it was located:
- Out with the area of the local authority;
- Away from facilities and services for the purposes of health and education which would be used by the household members;
A property would also be deemed as unsuitable if it:
- Was not wind and watertight;
- Was unsuitable for occupation by children;
- Lacked adequate toilet and personal washing facilities for the exclusive use of the household;
- Lacked adequate bedrooms for the exclusive use of the household;
- Lacked adequate cooking facilities and use of a living room; or
- Was not usable by the household for 24 hours a day.
There are exemptions where the Unsuitable Accommodation Order does not apply:
- Where the household has become homeless as a result of an emergency, such as flood, fire or disaster; or
- Where a household has been offered alternative accommodation but wishes to stay in 'unsuitable' accommodation; or
- Where the accommodation is for a women's refuge or is local authority supported accommodation which provides services to a household for the purposes of health, child care or family welfare.
The exemptions for refuges and local authority supported accommodation exist to ensure that a barrier does not occur that may prevent a household accessing emergency accommodation when fleeing domestic abuse.
HARSAG recommended that the 7 day restriction of time spent in unsuitable temporary accommodation should be extended to all homeless people.
Who will it affect?
The introduction of the extension of the 7 day restriction of time spent in unsuitable temporary accommodation to all homeless people will mean that the maximum number of days that local authorities can use unsuitable accommodation for any homeless person will be reduced.
What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?
Under the current Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2017 local authorities have a duty to ensure that homeless pregnant applicants and households with dependent children do not stay in unsuitable temporary accommodation for longer than 7 days and only where they do not have suitable accommodation to offer.
The homeless statistics for the period from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 show that there were 620 placements involving a breach of the Homeless Persons Unsuitable Accommodation Order. This compares to 395 breaches during the previous year, although it is recognised that this increase was partly due to the 2017 Amendment Order which shortened the number of days that local authorities can use unsuitable accommodation.
Each of the 32 local authorities have completed Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP) which set out how to redress the local balance of temporary and settled housing options and how local authorities and partners can support people into settled accommodation first and then help them with their longer term needs, initially over a 5-year planning cycle. Scotland's transition to a rapid rehousing approach represents significant culture and systems change in how we respond to homelessness and for the expectations of people affected by it.
Achieving the desired outcomes will be dependent upon the success of the RRTP implementation by local authorities, so that there is a reduction in the need for temporary accommodation in the first place by reducing demand through effective prevention and re-housing, and improving outflow or move-on.
In relation to move-on SG has transformed access to affordable housing with record investment of more than £3.3 billion to support the delivery of the ambitious target of 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent, by 2021.