3. The Programme for Government announced by the First Minister on 5 September 2017 set out a new commitment to eradicate rough sleeping, transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland and end homelessness.
4. The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was subsequently established to initiate these changes. HARSAG made 70 recommendations which led to the Ending Homelessness Together High Level Action Plan, which set out how the Scottish Government will work with partners to end rough sleeping and homelessness.
5. One HARSAG recommendation was to commence the Local Connection and Intentionality provisions in the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003, and the Scottish Government was keen to gather views on taking forward this recommendation, alongside gathering opinions on narrowing the definition of intentionality to focus on deliberate manipulation of the homelessness system.
6. The consultation on Local Connection and Intentionality Provisions in Homelessness Legislation opened on 31 January 2019 and ended on 25 April 2019.
7. In total, there were 72 replies to the consultation, of which 65 were from organisations (broken down as below) and 7 were from individuals.
Table 1: Respondent Groups
8. A number of key themes were evident across questions as well as across respondent groups and these are summarised below.
- The capacity for an individual experiencing homelessness to have choice as to where they wish to live was seen as being beneficial in terms of their wellbeing and their ability to maintain a sustained tenancy, thus reducing repeat homelessness and contributing to the overall aim of reducing homelessness across Scotland in the longer term.
- Respondents noted a need for a revised Code of Guidance before any legislative changes; and time for staff to undertake training prior to the introduction of the proposed changes. It was noted by respondents that it is important for local authorities to adopt a consistent approach in their homelessness services.
- There were concerns from many of the local authorities over the potential increased number of homeless presentations they would receive and the allied resources that would be needed (both services and funding). This is further exacerbated by a lack of suitable accommodation to meet temporary and permanent housing needs.
- There were also concerns that service providers would need additional funding to provide the required services.
- Linked to these points, there were concerns over how to plan for the introduction of intentionality given that the likely numbers of those presenting as homeless in each area is unknown.
- Many of the local authorities felt that Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTPs) need to be given time to embed before any changes are introduced, or that time is needed for RRTP to adapt to intentionality changes.
9. The following paragraphs summarise the main findings from each of the consultation questions.
Main Findings: Local Connection (Q1)
10. The highest level of support was for the suspension of all local connection referrals, and support for this came primarily from respondents within the third sector. Support for modification of local connection referrals came primarily from local authorities. That said, a significant number of local authorities supported not commencing these provisions.
11. Two key themes emerged in response to this question: support for people experiencing homelessness to be able to choose where they wish to settle and concerns over the potential for an increased number of homeless referrals in areas that do not have the necessary resources and services to meet needs. There were concerns from local authorities that the proposed changes could impact negatively on RRTP and reduce the likelihood of local authorities achieving the desired outcomes under RRTP.
12. There were some requests for monitoring to assess the impact of any changes, particularly as the likely numbers of homeless presentations in each area is unknown and may impact disproportionately on some local authorities.
Main Findings: The potential impacts of suspending referrals (Q2, Q3)
13. Respondents cited a number of positive benefits including the importance of choice for people experiencing homelessness and offering a capacity to be housed in an area best suited to an individual's needs and where they can access the necessary support services.
14. Some negative impacts were also noted; the key ones being the additional pressure on available support services, the agencies providing these, the financial and budgetary implications of an increased number of individuals wishing to access these services and the availability (or lack) of suitable accommodation. Some issues were also outlined in relation to planning for service delivery and assessing likely demand for services given the unknown number of homeless presentations. Local authorities in particular also noted concerns over the potential for an increased number of homeless presentations.
15. To help overcome some of these negative impacts, there were suggestions for higher levels of consultation and partnership working, the provision of advice and information on available services in specific areas and the need for effective planning, monitoring and reporting in place.
16. Around half of those responding agreed with the proposal to monitor the impact of any changes to the local connection legislation through continued collection and analysis of HL1 data. However, some respondents identified shortfalls with the existing approach to data collection and provided examples of ways in which HL1 should be modified.
17. Once again, the provision of guidance was requested so as to ensure that all data is consistently gathered.
Main Findings: The potential impacts of commencing intentionality provisions (Q4, Q5)
18. Around half the respondents were in favour of removing the duty on local authorities to assess households for intentionality, with the highest level of support coming from respondents within the third sector. The key reason for third sector support was that being labelled as intentionally homeless is often unfair and does not reflect the true picture of individual circumstances. This removal would also help remove barriers to securing accommodation.
19. Local authorities primarily supported not removing this duty and noted concerns of a lack of consistency of approach across and within local authorities, concerns about people manipulating the system and discretion taking away the need for individuals to take personal responsibility to retain their accommodation.
20. In response to Q5, a key positive impact was that homelessness applicants would have an increased chance of receiving assistance with intensive support for housing. Other positives were that there would be improved outcomes, more rapid support for rehousing and more flexibility in decision-making. Negative impacts were primarily seen to be a lack of consequences for people experiencing homelessness failing to accept their responsibilities and problems arising from a lack of consistency in applying the new intentionality provision.
Main findings: The potential costs of commencing local connection and intentionality provisions (Q6)
21. In relation to potential costs that may be incurred should the local connection and intentionality provisions be commenced, respondents tended to focus on the costs of using temporary accommodation, an increased use of temporary accommodation and increased use of bed and breakfast accommodation to plug any shortfalls. This was also perceived to have the potential to impact on other applicants in housing need.
22. A key theme was concerns over the specific costs if the local connection and intentionality provisions are commenced; both to local authorities and service providers. There was also mention again of the negative impact on implementation of RRTP and the need to monitor the changes to measure their impact.
Main Findings: Narrowing the definition of intentionality to focus only on instances of deliberate manipulation (Q7)
23. The key theme emerging was of a need for a careful definition of what would constitute intentionality and deliberate manipulation. Allied to this, there were calls for an updated Code of Guidance to guide decision-making and avoid inconsistent application across different local authorities.
Main Findings: Timings (Q8)
24. There was support for starting as soon as possible, in particular among third sector organisations. However, there was some disagreement as to how to define as soon as possible and many respondents provided qualifying commentary; again referring to the impact on RRTP and the need to align with RRTP timescales, a need for a revised Code of Guidance, a need for financial support from the Scottish Government, suitable housing stock and sufficient time to allow for preparation.
25. Although some respondents suggested specific timescales, there was little by way of consistency in their suggestions.
Main Findings: The impact of these changes on people with protected characteristics (Q9)
26. Many respondents provided comments on all groups of people with protected characteristics, rather than focusing on specific groups. Many comments were that there would be no impact on any specific group, that there would be no negative impact or that any impact would be positive. A relatively small number of respondents outlined any negative impacts.
Main Findings: Final comments (Q10)
27. Many comments made in response to this question echoed points made to earlier questions. The key theme, albeit only from a small number of respondents was support for the HARSAG recommendations.