A national consultation on improving Temporary Accommodation Standards was undertaken between 22 May and 14 August 2019. It reflects the Scottish Government's (SG) ambition to progress the commitments made in the Ending Homelessness Together High Level Action Plan, published in November 2018.
The consultation contained forty-two questions that covered two key issues: the proposal that the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation should be limited to a maximum of seven days for all homeless households and the creation of a set of Scottish Government advisory standards and how these could be introduced as a legally enforceable temporary accommodation standards framework.
The consultation received 65 responses (62 via Citizen Space and 3 in non-standard format). A further 351 responses to subsets of questions were received from individuals via an organisation.
Unsuitable Accommodation Order
Respondents expressed their preference for one of three options to extend the 7 day restriction on the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation to all people experiencing homelessness. Views were mixed, with a slightly larger group preferring Option A (To extend the restriction to all homeless people from an agreed date) to Option B (To extend the restriction to all homeless people, with the extension to be implemented incrementally, over a period of time). Among those with lived experience virtually all indicated that the restriction should be extended.
When commenting on a legal date for implementation in the event of Option A, many suggested the implementation date should align with the end of the development of Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP). Second most common were calls for the extension to be implemented 'as soon as possible', with a similar number calling for implementation within a year.
A range of perspectives were evident when respondents gave their views on timescales in relation to implementing Option B. Most frequent were references to RRTP. In this context, many suggested the implementation date should align with the end of this period, namely 1st April 2024.
There was an even split in preferences for two alternative approaches to implementation. A number of arguments for a consistent national approach were put forward. These included suggestions that it would: achieve consistency, equality and transparency in practice across local authorities; enable comparison of progress and implementation across Scotland; and provide clarity of expectations and consistent experiences for homeless households.
Those who advocated for a localised approach highlighted that the demands and availability of housing stock vary considerably by local authority area. There was mention that this would enable local authorities to tailor their approaches to developing and implementing local authority RRTPs, or utilise their insights into the specific support needs facing homeless households in their area.
When commenting on priorities for expansion, should Option B be implemented, prioritisation for young people and care leavers was a dominant theme. Second most common were calls for prioritisation of people who are most vulnerable or at risk of harm, or those with multiple or complex needs.
Most respondents identified both positive and negative impacts from the extension. Comments on positive impacts fell broadly into one or both of two categories. Firstly, impacts for individuals with frequent reference to fairness or equality and reflections on the improved likelihood of successful transitions to permanent housing. Secondly, a smaller group of respondents reflected on positive impacts for the housing sector, or Scotland more generally.
Most common among comments about negative impacts on the housing sector was a perception that the extension would result in an increase of breaches by housing providers who are unable to meet the new requirements in the short term. Linked to this, some expressed fears that housing providers will not be able to cover the costs of upgrading stock to meet requirements and a similar number of respondents suggested that the introduction could have an adverse impact on the implementation of RRTPs. Anticipated negative impacts for families included concerns that in order to avoid breaches housing providers might need to utilise stock across greater distances of the local authority area, increasing the likelihood that homeless households will be placed further away from important services or social networks.
Having been presented with the current definition of unsuitable accommodation, most of those who responded indicated 'there are factors I would like to see changed'. Most common were calls for the definition to recognise that accommodation should meet the specific needs of individuals or families, such as their vulnerabilities, size of family and age. Calls for more clarity in aspects of the definitions was also a prevalent theme. Respondents reflected on the importance of placements that enabled people to access crucial services. Another strong theme were expressions of agreement that the current definitions are still appropriate.
A majority of respondents agreed the definition should be extended to all households. Most supported the extension on the basis of equity or fairness.
All bar one of the respondents indicated they were in favour of the standards currently in use. Responses to this question highlighted the existing standards as comprehensive and robust, reflecting the physical and social aspects of temporary accommodation. Many respondents, however, suggested there is a need to enhance or update the standards. In these comments they described lessons learned from the implementation of the standards, or recent changes in the context of providing temporary accommodation.
When considering if additional standards are required, most prevalent within responses was a suggestion that no additional standards are needed. Second most common were calls for standards to include a requirement for the accommodation to meet the specific needs of people placed in temporary accommodation.
A common thread across responses to the question on other relevant legislative and regulatory mechanisms was that their inclusion within the new set of standards would be helpful. It was explained these would reinforce and raise awareness of the legislative and regulatory framework among housing providers, staff, other stakeholders and service users. The clear view from respondents was that the standards and guidance should be incorporated into a single document.
In relation to the operation of the Working Group many respondents argued it must include representation from people who have lived experience of homelessness to inform their work. Others felt it should have broad a cross section of stakeholders; not just housing providers, but those that deliver support and services that address the needs of homeless households, such as health or social care services.
Monitoring and regulation
It was evident that respondents considered a regulatory function to be necessary. There was general agreement that it is appropriate for the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) to continue in this role. No one argued for the creation of a new body to undertake this work. However, many different points of view were evident about the need for changes in the way SHR undertakes its work, and its powers.
Most respondents agreed with the approach outlined in the consultation for monitoring and enforcing new standards for temporary accommodation. Comments included that the proposed approach may be a quicker or more efficient, as it recognised existing legislation and frameworks, represented best use of resources and allowed for some flexibility for local variation.
A wide range of approaches were described by respondents when commenting on how local authorities currently monitor the standard of temporary accommodation. The most common theme was the use of visits, inspections and checks to properties. Second most common in comments on current monitoring practices were references to meeting existing standards. Another prevalent theme was the use of customer/tenant feedback or surveys.
Respondents were also invited to comment on other approaches or options which could be considered to ensure local authorities adhere to new temporary accommodation standards. The most common theme in responses was the need to provide additional funding or support to local authorities or registered social landlords to help them adhere to the new standards. Some also highlighted the need to involve service users or advocacy organisations. This included encouraging those with lived experience to inspect properties, with input from advocacy organisations.
Across comments on how local authorities could be supported to minimise breaches of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, most common were calls for additional resources to support local authorities to meet their requirements. These included financial resources and other types of support, such as sharing of best practice. Another prevalent theme in responses was of variation in local need. Respondents called for tailored interventions depending on the challenges that their area faces.
A number of themes were identified, in comments on how local authorities could be supported or encouraged to adopt the new standards for temporary accommodation. Most frequently mentioned were calls for guidance, the sharing of good practice and learning networks. This included suggestions for websites, guides, training, events or visits. The second most common theme included calls for an increase in housing stock or other non-financial support for housing providers.
Examples from people with lived experience highlight the challenges of raising issues or problems about the standards of temporary accommodation and of getting things fixed. Most indicated that, in their experience, this was 'not easy' and agreed that a set of Scottish Government standards for temporary accommodation would help them raise any problems with their accommodation.
Enforcement and sanctions
Respondents were invited to select 'yes' or 'no' to indicate their overall view on whether or not sanctions were an appropriate mechanism to encourage compliance with the extension of the UAO to all homeless households. Most of the 55 respondents who answered this question selected 'no'.
In relation to sanctions for new standards, a common theme across responses was that respondents did not believe sanctions were appropriate for local authorities failing to meet the new standards on the basis that fines or any form of financial penalties would be counter-productive. Some simply stated that fines could lead to a deterioration of services or limit the ability of local authorities to deliver services effectively.
In response to a question on effective approaches, there was a clear preference for Option B or an incremental approach as the best way to avoid an increase in the number of breaches of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order. The most common reason being the additional time and flexibility for local authorities to plan and respond to their local contexts. Some also commented that this would allow consistency with RRTPs.
The Scottish Government's key proposals were endorsed in principle. Most respondents supported an extension of the seven-day limit for use of unsuitable temporary accommodation to all homeless people. They also agreed the Scottish Government should create standards for temporary accommodation based on the guidance published by the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland and Shelter Scotland. However, views on approaches to implementing these changes, and the likely impact of the proposals, differed.