1. Unsuitable Accommodation Order
Proposed changes and actions around the Unsuitable Accommodation Order were a key focus of the consultation paper. This chapter presents analysis of the responses to questions about the Order:
- Views on extending the Order, including:
- Timelines for extensions
- A localised or national approach
- Priorities for incremental extensions
- Potential impacts of extending the Order
- Exemptions to the Order
- The lived experience of temporary accommodation
This chapter addresses responses to the following consultation questions:
Views on extending the Order
Consultation question 1 explained that the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation for families and children is currently limited to a maximum of 7 days.
Section 2 Question 1: Scottish Ministers have used their powers under the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 to limit the use unsuitable temporary accommodation for families and children to a maximum of 7 days via The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2017. HARSAG has recommended that this restriction be extended to all people experiencing homelessness. Do you think we should:
Option A - Extend the restriction to all homeless people from an agreed date.
Option B - Extend the restriction to all homeless people but introduced incrementally over a period of time.
Option C - Not extend the restriction to all homeless people.
Views were mixed across the 58 respondents who responded to this question. A slightly larger group, which included representatives from each of the four main stakeholder groups, preferred Option A over Option B. Advocacy providers were the dominant subgroup who had this preference. There was also cross-sectoral support for Option B, with housing providers the dominant subgroup who preferred this option. Option C was preferred by a minority, which included a small number of stakeholders from housing, one organisation from the advocacy sector and one person without lived experience.
Lived Experience Question 10: Currently the Unsuitable Accommodation Order means that local authorities must not house families and pregnant women in unsuitable accommodation for more than 7 days. Do you think that this should be changed so that everyone is covered by the Unsuitable Accommodation Order?
Among those with lived experience, including those contributing to the alternative format responses submitted via an organisation, there was overwhelming support for the restriction to be extended. Virtually all respondents indicated that this should be the case.
The very small number who indicated the restriction should not be extended cited two specific negative impacts. These included the additional pressure on resources due to increased demand, and that extending to all would include some for whom homelessness was a short-term, resolvable issue which would put additional pressure on the system and housing stock.
Timelines for the extension
Respondents were asked for their views in relation to different scenarios for extending the restriction.
Section 2 Question 2: If the consensus for extension is option A what date would you suggest as the legal date for implementation?
If the consensus for extension is option B: By what date do you consider it would be reasonable for all homeless households to be covered by the extended Order?
Most frequent in response to this question were references to the Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP), typically raised by housing providers. In this context, many suggested the implementation date should align with the end of this period, namely 1st April 2024. These respondents noted such a timeframe would provide local authorities with a chance to prepare their housing stock and internal processes for the increased demand in temporary accommodation. A small number of respondents within this group noted that an earlier implementation date would be acceptable, but asked that any breaches linked to the extension be held off until the conclusion of the RRTP. Some respondents asked the Scottish Government to consider a localised approach to implementation, reflecting the readiness or otherwise of each local authority.
Conversely, second most common were calls for the extension to be implemented 'as soon as possible'. This group included some advocacy stakeholders and individuals with lived experience of homelessness. There was some diversity of opinion about what this meant in practice. Some respondents suggested implementation should happen immediately; one of these specified there should be no exemptions or exceptions. A few acknowledged that such a change would have a significant impact on housing providers and were more flexible, suggesting for example implementation take place 'as soon as reasonably practicable'.
A similar number called for implementation within a year. Almost all of these simply provided a suggested date or timescale for implementation, for example '6-12 months'. One reflected that such a timescale would be manageable if an 'advisory' breach system was adopted until the conclusion of the RRTP.
A few suggested that a two-year period would be acceptable. Again, most simply provided a suggested date or timescale for implementation without discussing the rationale. One highlighted that they were calling for a two-year implementation period specifically in relation to the use of B&Bs.
Other comments, each from small numbers of respondents, included:
- Concerns about the potential for fast introduction of changes to result in an increase of breaches by housing providers, with calls for flexible approaches, depending on the capacity of local authorities to respond to this requirement.
- Reflections on the likely resource implication of the implementation for housing providers.
- Mention of other changes that may also affect the demand for temporary accommodation, including forthcoming adjustments to local connection and intentionality rules.
- A suggestion that the preparations and planning arrangements for each local authority's RRTP be reviewed on an annual basis, and for this review to inform decisions on when to implement the extension.
- A call from one respondent for the change to be introduced by 2022; they did not, however, provide an explanation for suggesting this timescale.
- A general observation from one respondent that they did not have a view on the timescale but felt it important that appropriate support be put in place to assist households experiencing homelessness at the earliest opportunity.
Secondly, respondents were asked for their views on timescales in relation to Option B: an extension of the restriction to all homeless people, implemented incrementally, over a period of time. Again, a range of perspectives were evident in the responses to this question, echoing those described above.
Most frequent were references to the RRTPs. In this context, many suggested the implementation date should align with the end of this period, namely 1st April 2024.
Other themes in the responses to questions on preferred options and timescales included calls for implementation within a year; the same number suggested a two-year period would be acceptable. A small number urged the Scottish Government to introduce the change as soon as possible or within a one-year period.
Other comments, each from a small number of respondents, included:
- Calls for flexible approaches to implementation, depending on the capacity of local authorities to respond to this requirement.
- An observation that infrastructure and housing stock would need to be in place to facilitate this change.
- Mention of the challenges of implementing the extension in the short term and reflections on the range of changes that the housing sector is undergoing at present.
- Concern that the changes might encourage some households to use the homeless system to secure a tenancy, reflecting a lack of alternative housing options available through mainstream routes.
Perceptions of the timescales in which any extension should be applied were broadly similar among those who responded to lived experience questions and those who contributed to the alternative format consultation responses submitted via an organisation. The most common response was that it should be extended as soon as possible, with variations on this including small numbers stating it should be implemented immediately, or as soon as local authorities can manage. Other options – extending incrementally or from an agreed date – were mentioned less frequently. Of those indicating a preference for incremental change, several argued this was necessary to ensure the Order was extended to different groups, reflecting their needs. A small number argued it was needed to ensure the supply of accommodation is in place.
A national or localised approach
Would you prefer a consistent national approach to the transition or for local authorities to take forward based on their own local circumstances?
There was an even split in preferences for each of the two options. Advocacy stakeholders were the largest presence in the group calling for a consistent national approach. Conversely, housing providers dominated the calls for a localised approach.
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. It was suggested a national approach could bring parity across service provisions and areas, reducing the practice of placing families beyond their preferred education or health locality. Additionally, a small number expressed fears that if it were not a national requirement, some local authorities would not comply.
"For fairness and equality it should be implemented in the whole of Scotland at the same time. The Government could help with making sure all local authorities have what they need to implement the changes especially with financial support." [Individual with lived experience]
Those who advocated for a localised approach highlighted that the demands and availability of housing stock vary considerably by local authority area.
Some housing providers mentioned that a local approach 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. It was also suggested that a localised approach would still be able to reflect nationally determined objectives.
Other comments, from a small number of respondents, outwith the themes of a local or national approach, included descriptions of the lived experience faced by homeless households living in unsuitable accommodation. There were calls for this change to be supported with strategy, national leadership and sufficient resources, some comments on inconsistent practice across local authorities and a call for any guidance published to consider 'The Care Review 12 Intentions'.
Priorities for incremental expansion
Respondents were asked for their views on priorities for expansion, should Option B – an incremental approach – be implemented.
Section 2 Question 3: If the consensus for extension is option B:
What types of experiences, circumstances or characteristics would you prioritise in the incremental extension?
Would you prefer a consistent national approach to the transition or for local authorities to take forward based on their own local circumstances?
Prioritisation for young people and care leavers was a dominant theme in the responses to this question. Comments included reflections on the negative impacts of homelessness for young people including social exclusion and poor mental health. A small number of respondents shared examples of people becoming homeless immediately on leaving the care system, with housing providers not recognising the needs or experiences of this protected group.
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. These included mention of people with a history of offending, veterans and people with alcohol or substance dependencies. Some made broad references to 'vulnerable people'; one called for the Scottish Government to apply a definition from the homelessness recording form (HL1) 'special household characteristics'.
There were also calls for priority status to be awarded to people fleeing abuse or harm, and older people were also identified as a priority group. A small number of respondents suggested people with a repeat history of homelessness could have priority status.
Other priorities for the Scottish Government to consider were also identified in comments. These included:
- For the least suitable accommodation to be redeveloped or closed as a priority.
- For priority action to be focused in specific geographies, such as a rural areas or cities that are struggling to meet demand.
- To address specific issues as a priority, such as the overuse of B&Bs, placements that do not meet the needs of people who are disabled, or those which provide shared facilities.
In their comments a few respondents highlighted issues with an incremental approach to extension. These included concerns that single homeless households could be left behind if the change is not rolled out unilaterally, or conversely, a fear that expanding the extension will put an intolerable pressure on housing services, and for the prioritisation of families to continue.
Other comments included mention of changes underway in the housing sector, requests for flexibility in implementation and a call for the Scottish Government to implement national minimum standards for Temporary Accommodation.
Potential impacts of extending the Order
Respondents were asked for their views on the potential positive or negative impacts of extending the restriction to all homeless people. These questions generated complex, rich and detailed responses. Most respondents identified both positive and negative impacts from the extension.
Section 2 Question 5: Please tell us about positive impacts that extending the restriction to all homeless people may have.
Comments on positive impacts fell broadly into one or both of two categories. Firstly, impacts for individuals; the focus of most responses. Secondly, a smaller group of respondents reflected on positive impacts for the housing sector, or Scotland more generally.
Most common in the responses to the question on positive impacts for individuals was mention of fairness or equality. Respondents described a need for parity of rights among people who are homeless, often observing that the current system has negative outcomes for people who are not listed as a priority. The experiences of single homeless households were often highlighted, with examples shared of individuals being placed in unsuitable accommodation for several months or longer.
Another prevalent theme was reflections on the improved likelihood of successful transitions to permanent housing. In these comments, respondents described the importance of stability, of spending less time in temporary accommodation, experiencing fewer disruptions, and of moving on to suitable temporary or permanent accommodation that meets their needs. Some highlighted that enabling people to stay within the reach of their social and family support networks would make it more likely for them to make a successful transition.
"Suitable temporary accommodation will enable individuals who find themselves in homelessness to take action and make plans and maintain their day to day lives without disruption to employment, education, health care, links to family and community. Essential for everyone but paramount for young people and families with children, in a country which aims to be a good place to grow up." [Organisation]
Many respondents suggested that extending the restriction would address some of the factors that contribute to poor mental or physical health for those in unsuitable accommodation. These included stress, anxiety about the future, isolation from support networks, poverty and exposure to harmful social influences.
Greater safety for homeless households was also described by respondents. The comments on safety included mention of exposure to harmful social influences or substances such as alcohol and drugs in unsuitable accommodation.
There was also mention of the potential for more effective delivery of tailored support. Some reflected that greater stability for homeless households would render them better able to engage with support.
The positive implications for dignity and rights were highlighted. This included an acknowledgement that the extension would provide an enforceable right to adequate temporary accommodation. Some praised the proposal as a way to reduce disruptive impacts for children in homeless families, noting the well-recognised long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Other reflections on positive impacts from smaller numbers of respondents included that the change would end the ghettoization of homeless households; prevent the social isolation experienced by people in unsuitable temporary accommodation; and support families to maintain important relationships, for example enabling single fathers to spend time with their children. It was also suggested that the extension would increase the likelihood of homeless households sustaining or engaging with employment or training opportunities; lower costs for homeless households who find the unsuitable accommodation rents unaffordable; and end an over-reliance by local authorities on B&B accommodation.
Themes in the comments on positive impacts for the housing sector, from a few respondents, included reflections that it would achieve greater consistency of approach across local authorities and less use of expensive B&B accommodation, saving housing providers' money to reinvest in other services and support.
Other suggestions included a belief the expansion would drive a shift towards better quality accommodation across temporary housing providers, that the expansion activities will assist local authorities to develop their RRTPs, the homelessness system would process people faster, and that there would be fewer people sleeping rough and lower levels of repeat homelessness.
Section 2 Question 6: Please tell us about any negative implications that may result from us extending the restriction to all homeless people.
Responses to the question on negative impacts were broad ranging, spanning impacts for the housing sector and for homeless households. There were no notable variations by respondent subgroup; key themes were evident in responses from the main groups of stakeholders.
Most common among comments about 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. This view was shared by housing providers, advocacy organisations and individual respondents without lived experience of homelessness, such as staff. Some shared fears that local authorities do not have the resources to cover financial penalties linked to breaches.
"There may be some significant cost implications for some local authorities to adequately resource this change. There is also likely to be implications in terms of staff time, acquiring new sources of homeless accommodation and other resources a homeless service has to rely on in order to discharge their duty. We are concerned that there may be too much change at the same time taking place within homelessness for each of the welcomed changes to be effectively rolled out". [Organisation]
Linked to this, some respondents expressed fears that housing providers will not be able to cover the costs of upgrading stock to meet requirements or noted other concerns about the resource implications for local authorities. One called for the need for lead-in time for any changes implemented.
A similar number of respondents suggested that the introduction could have an adverse impact on the implementation of RRTPs. Many of these comments highlighted that attempts to meet the new requirements in the short term would absorb staff time and housing provider resources, shifting attention from the medium-term activity that RRTP would require.
Some expressed fears that private accommodation providers, such as B&B owners, might close their businesses, reducing the availability of stock that housing providers rely upon to meet demand.
A small number of respondents observed that the new system may have some unintended consequences. These included (i) people presenting as homeless in the belief that this would be a faster route to permanent housing and (ii) housing staff refusing applications from eligible homeless households.
A few suggested that the impact of the changes might differ, depending on the local authority in question. For example, some respondents noted that they did not see any difficulties in implementing the expansion but were aware that other local authorities would face significant challenges.
Conversely, some respondents said that they could not foresee any negative impacts. Some reiterated positives impacts they had described elsewhere in their response, saying these would outweigh negatives in the longer term.
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. It was also suggested that homeless households could be moved multiple times so that they do not exceed more than 7 days in unsuitable accommodation.
Linked to the points above, some expressed fears that support agencies would lose contact with homeless householders faster.
A few respondents suggested that the waiting lists for permanent accommodation would grow longer, as the housing stock would be reallocated to replace unsuitable temporary accommodation. A small number of respondents anticipated lower quality of services, resulting from the need to make quick decisions about allocation.
It was suggested by some that housing providers would lose the capacity to offer temporary accommodation that does not align with the requirements, for example, that which offers shared spaces, but nevertheless meets the needs of service users.
The alternative format responses submitted via an organisation also collected individuals' views on the potential impact of extending the Order. Of those who provided an answer, virtually all believed there would be a positive impact. Most specifically cited the positive impact on the mental health of people living in unsuitable accommodation.
A smaller proportion talked more generally about the positive impact – often in relation to health, but also in terms of people being able to 'get on with life'. Many also noted the potential for cost-savings to be made by councils.
However, concerns were also raised about whether the resources needed to make the changes – specifically the volume of housing stock required, or the money needed to make any necessary improvements – are available.
Less common themes were the positive impact on the ability of people living in unsuitable accommodation to be in employment, and general comments about extending the Order having a positive impact by making society fairer.
Exemptions to the extension of the Order
Section 2 Question 9: The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014 contains exemptions for certain types of refuges and supported accommodation. With the extension of the Order to all homeless households, should these exemptions still apply and do you think any other exemptions should be considered?
Most of the respondents who responded to this question agreed exemptions should continue. Analysis by respondent subgroups showed a large majority of the housing providers and advocacy organisations who participated in the consultation believed the exemptions should continue. People with lived experience were evenly split in terms of agreement or disagreement with the extension. Among the small number of individuals without lived experience (for example, members of the public), slightly more disagreed than agreed with the proposal.
"Certain types of supported accommodation (like refuges) benefit from being shared spaces as the therapeutic support includes peer support and these should be exempt, for example young mothers supported accommodation. Other exemptions that could considered could be young people flat sharing who have their own toilet/washing facilities but who share a kitchen and living space". [Organisation]
Responses were considered in relation to whether or not people agreed the extension exemptions should still apply to all homeless households. As noted above, a majority of respondents agreed.
Most common were suggestions of additional types of exemptions for the Scottish Government to consider. These included models of shared temporary accommodation facilities, including hostels; supported accommodation delivered by private providers; the flexibility to use accommodation that meets the specific needs of the homeless household; emergency accommodation; and exemptions if the placement would present a significant risk to the homeless household, or others.
Second most common were reflections on the value of the exemptions in place or concerns about what could be lost if exemptions are withdrawn. Respondents shared examples of expertise in delivering support for homeless households, including engaging with individuals who have complex needs, or trauma-informed activities with families that have experienced domestic violence. A few respondents reflected on the value of shared accommodation arrangements including peer support and social inclusion.
Several reflected on the practical need for exemptions, based on the high level of demand for temporary accommodation. A small number expressed general agreement with the existing exemptions but did not expand on this.
Other comments from a small number of respondents included a call for a programme of investment in national standards for the level and quality of refuge accommodation. One respondent shared an observation that weather-related housing emergencies are increasing and suggested support arrangements for displaced households affected by climate change should be reviewed.
Comments from the small number who disagreed with a continuation of exceptions varied. A small number suggested that removal of the exemptions would be a driver for improved standards across all forms of temporary accommodation. A small number stated they disagreed with the exemptions but did not explain why. One suggested that the location of the accommodation should be the only factor considered eligible for exemption, not the standard of the facilities.
The lived experience of temporary accommodation
Lived Experience Question 1: When you first became homeless were you given access to temporary accommodation immediately by your council if you required it?
Lived Experience Question 2: What type of temporary accommodation were you placed in? (B&B, hostel, furnished flat etc.)
Lived Experience Question 4: How many different temporary accommodations were you placed in? Why was this the case? What impact did this have on you?
Those with lived experience were asked to indicate whether they had been given access to temporary accommodation immediately by their council when they had first become homeless. Of the small number who gave a response, the vast majority indicated that they had not.
This group also gave some details of the types of accommodation they had been placed in. Bed and Breakfasts were most common, followed by flats, accommodation provided by advocacy organisations and hotels and hostels. A small number also commented on the unsuitability of that accommodation, with issues including lack of furnishings, presence of people with addiction issues and mixed-sex accommodation. One respondent raised the stigma of being placed in what was known locally as 'the homeless flat'.
Respondents described a huge variety of experiences in temporary accommodation placements. Most commented that they had been in between one and three placements, but there were mentions of nine, ten or 'hundreds' of accommodations. A few described the reasons for the moves, which were due to lack of accommodation, leaving temporary accommodation and then re-presenting later, or issues with mental health. Some described the impact of repeated moves, including wasted time, feeling judged or stigmatised and negative impacts on mental health.
An advocacy organisation reported on their own consultation among 38 people with lived experience of homelessness. In this group hostels were the most common placements, followed by B&Bs and flats in equal number. Those who were not immediately allocated temporary accommodation were required to sleep rough, sofa surf or return to unsafe circumstances. On average, this group reported spending 3 years in temporary accommodation.
In the alternative format responses submitted via an organisation, people with lived experience of temporary accommodation, as well as relevant professionals, described temporary accommodation and its impact. Their reflections covered a wide range of themes.
Most common were the range of negative descriptors used to describe experiences. These included: 'soul-destroying', 'terrible', 'horrific', 'traumatic', 'never likely to be forgotten' and 'humiliating'.
The second most common theme was the impact on mental health. Many commented on the negative impact on mental health generally, but specific issues noted ranged from depression, anxiety, insecurity, distress, and stress.
There were also several comments on issues related to safety. These included concerns about personal safety, exposure to anti-social behaviour and people with addiction issues, being offered drugs and feelings of intimidation. Another theme within this was safety of personal possessions, with food and possessions being stolen.
Several described a detrimental impact on physical health, with a few commenting on the negative impact on diet due to lack of access to adequate cooking facilities.
Some discussed how the experience left people in temporary accommodation feeling isolated and lonely. This was related to the restrictive nature of placements. People cited the curfews and restrictions on visitors as making them 'feel like a prisoner'.
Other issues raised by smaller numbers of respondents included:
- Poor treatment by staff in temporary accommodation.
- The unsettling nature of being unable to plan for the future.
- Difficulties faced by those trying to find or sustain employment.
- Impacts on families; and the financial impact of food being stolen or changes in benefits.