Section 2: Draft Ministerial Statement and Proposal to Suspend Local Connection
27 It is the Scottish Government's expectation that those who are homeless or rough sleeping are more likely to resettle successfully, and avoid repeat homelessness, if they are living in an area of their choosing where they can access the specific services and support they require and where they are able to integrate successfully into the local community. Additionally, for some households, the ability to have a fresh start in another area can be a vitally important factor in helping them to sustain a safe and settled home.
28 We agree with the view, as expressed in the majority of responses to last year's consultation, that people experiencing homelessness are best placed to make the judgement as to the geographical area which best meets these needs. Choice may lead to better outcomes than a strict interpretation of the legislative test. However, we agree also that it is necessary to balance this desire with the need to ensure that these choices are realistic in terms of accommodation and support capacity within local authorities.
Core content of the Ministerial Statement
29 As mentioned above, Scottish Ministers are obliged to make a statement, within 18 months of Section 8 of the 2003 Act coming into force, setting out the circumstances in which, and the general criteria by reference to which, the power to modify the local connection provisions is to be exercised.
30 The Scottish Government proposes the following core content for the statement, which is informed by the consultation undertaken to date as well as separate engagement with individual stakeholders and a further analysis of previous engagement, practice and trends.
31 It is proposed that the circumstances for modifying local connection referrals would be:
To increase the ability of people who are experiencing or are threatened with homelessness to choose where to apply for assistance; taking account of available evidence on any detrimental effect which may result in terms of the capacity of particular local authorities to meet their homelessness duties, or outcomes for individuals or communities.
32 It is proposed that the general criteria, by reference to which, the power to modify local connection is to be exercised would be:
- To improve outcomes for households experiencing homelessness;
- To increase choice for households experiencing homelessness;
- At the same time, to maintain the capacity for local authorities to fulfil their statutory homelessness duties and their duty to house people in housing need, and to respond to:
- significant undue pressures related to an increased level of households being assessed as homeless, where this pressure is due in part to the pressure of applications from households with no local connection to the local authority area(s);
- significant undue pressures resulting from increases to the scale/frequency of homelessness applications from households experiencing homelessness with no local connection to the local authority area(s).
33 This third bullet is in recognition that it is important to balance the desire to reduce burdens and increase choice for people with the need to ensure that these choices are realistic in terms of accommodation and support capacity within local authorities. The Scottish Government plans to monitor this, on an ongoing basis, to determine whether the capacity of a local authority to meet its homelessness and housing duties is being adversely affected by any modification to local connection. It is proposed that the factors to be considered would include:
- number of applications/assessments
- number of social lets required to house statutory homeless people and associated impact on waiting lists
- number of households experiencing homelessness in temporary accommodation and time spent there
- sustainability of solutions for households experiencing homelessness
- ability to meet support needs
- ability to prevent homelessness
Proposal to Suspend Local Connection Referrals
34 In line with the recommendation of HARSAG, the Scottish Government proposes to suspend local connection referrals between local authorities within Scotland by means of a statutory instrument (subject to affirmative procedure) which would, if approved, come into force in May 2021.
35 The suspension would take effect among Scottish local authorities only - current arrangements relating to referrals to and from authorities in other parts of the UK will continue to apply as they do now. This would mean that no local authority in Scotland could refer an applicant to another local authority in Scotland on local connection grounds - but a Scottish local authority could still refer an applicant to elsewhere in the UK and would be obliged to accept referrals from elsewhere in the UK. It should be noted that the duty to co-operate with other local authorities under section 38 of the 1987 Act remains unaffected by the proposed changes.
36 This decision is predicated on the belief that people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness generally have good reasons to present to a particular authority, and that these reasons (as described above) should be acknowledged.
37 Local authorities and their partners are key to preventing and tackling homelessness in Scotland and providing the housing and support that people need. By suspending the power of local authorities in Scotland to make referrals to other Scottish councils for local connection, we are eliminating one of the barriers people face to receiving the right support, where and when they need it. This will ensure that front-line staff are able to focus decisions and effort on providing a prompt, person-centred approach to applicants, and help more people into a settled home more quickly.
38 However, while historical data indicates that the power for local authorities to make local connection referrals is used infrequently, and has reduced over time, we acknowledge that there should be a mechanism for dealing with a situation where a particular authority cannot cope with an increased flow of applicants, should this occur. The 1987 Act, as amended, allows for action to be taken in these circumstances and Scottish Ministers retain the power to reverse or alter these modifications, in the event that information comes to light that suggests they are no longer appropriate.
39 It is proposed that following the first exercise of the powers under Section 8, local authorities could make a case to Scottish Ministers if they believed there was a need for further modification. The criteria for making this case would be as set out in the Statement (i.e. as currently proposed at paragraphs 32 - 33 above).
Monitoring Evidence/Assessing Impact
40 The Scottish Government would also monitor all available data and evidence, against the circumstances and general criteria, set out above, to keep the Ministerial Statement under review and to take swift and appropriate action, following consultation with local authority and other key partners, should it reveal that further modification to this statement and/or the statutory order which implements changes is needed.
41 On the national level, we anticipate that the overall impact of suspending local connection referrals will be neutral. We acknowledge, however, the concerns which have been expressed by local authorities and will monitor the number of applications and homelessness assessments in each local authority so that we pick up any changes or trends
42 The existing data (see tables at Annex A) shows that only around 0.5% of applicants who are assessed as homeless are currently being referred to another local authority under this legislation, and that most people present at a local authority where they have a local connection. These data also show that the number of referrals made varies between local authorities and the data will help us understand how the legislative changes impact on different local authorities.
43 In order to measure the impact on local authorities it is important to have sound monitoring systems in place. Local authorities' use of local connection powers has been recorded through the HL1 system which includes the category 'referred to another authority'.
44 The HL1 data collection was revised in April 2007 (in response to findings from Tribal HCH research, 2005), with additional questions on local connection added to gather information on whether, and in what way, an applicant household has a local connection with the authority and, if they do not, in what way they have a connection with another authority. These questions were introduced to aid monitoring of future modifications to local connection rules, so that a case could be made if needed for reversing any modification and to give an indication of the number of applicants local authorities refer to another authority.
45 The HL1 system is able to continue to collect local connection information where the power to refer is not currently exercised and should the provisions be suspended. Data is collected quarterly and published on a 6 monthly basis which provides an opportunity to respond swiftly should any local authorities come under undue pressure.
46 To further assist with monitoring the impact of any future modification of local connection, we also took steps to publish local connection data as part of the Homelessness in Scotland Statistics from summer 2020 onwards.
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