Understanding the context
It is important that we monitor impact and understand progress towards our aims. This report (below and Annex 1) presents changes in homelessness statistics since the Action Plan was published in November 2018. It is worth noting that these data cover the first four months of activity from the Action Plan, as we started our transformational journey. In the future we plan to align the publication of the Annual Progress Report to coincide with the most recent statistics being published, and the next annual report will be published after the January 2021 homelessness statistics are released (collected up until the end of September 2020).
To respond well to homelessness we need to know how many people are experiencing homelessness, as well as understanding their individual experiences, including their reasons for making homelessness applications and where they were living before they applied. We also need to know how many people are staying in temporary accommodation, what type and for how long. In order to prevent rough sleeping, avoid repeat homelessness applications and support people to achieve settled housing we need to understand the causes and impacts. Annex 1 sets out what we know from homelessness statistics across all these important areas and how we expect the data to improve over time as our transformative work is taken forward.
In the long-term, applications have fallen 40% from a peak of over 60,000 in 2005/06. However, the number of applications has increased recently and in 2018/19 36,465 applications were received (an increase of 3% or 892 applications from the previous year).
Chart 1: Scotland: Number of applications and assessments under the homelessness legislation
Whilst we do not know for sure what is causing this increase, we are aware that UK Government’s welfare cuts continue to have a significant impact in Scotland and increase the risk of homelessness. The benefit freeze, benefit cap, and the local housing allowance rate, has negatively affected increasingly large numbers of people across Scotland.
"The Ending Homelessness Together plan, when fully implemented will have a significant impact. It is a joined-up and cross-government plan, and needs to be implemented as such. The big root-cause questions need to be addressed including some that require action by the UK Government as well as action in Scotland from the Scottish Government, local authorities, housing associations and many, many other organisations.
The social security system needs to be invested in and made to work to prevent homelessness as the level of housing benefits set by the UK Government is increasingly inadequate, and the needs of people who have migrated to the UK and found themselves forced to experience homelessness need to be addressed.
There is also a wide array of evidence for Universal Credit having a direct impact on increases in rent arrears, which have been rising steadily year on year since March 2013.
The benefit freeze will be continuing to the end of 2019/20 - four years of operation - reducing the real-terms value of most working-age benefit rates by a further 2.4%, making it harder for people to pay their rent and make ends meet.
The cap on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) means that overall, there are only a few areas where low income families are not expected to experience any shortfall in rent. Instead, a large number of areas, particularly areas of high housing demand, continue to experience shortfalls between actual rent and available LHA support across all property types, making private rents unaffordable for many people. The highest absolute shortfalls are typically experienced by large families.
Recently published Scottish Government statistics on the private rented sector show that rents in Scotland have increased 24.6% on average between 2010 and 2019 (compared to a Consumer Price Index rise of 20.8%). The increases in Lothian and Greater Glasgow have been more substantial over this time (46% and 38% respectively), and are continuing to rise.
The recently published Housing and Social Security: second follow-up paper on Welfare Reform lays out the impact the UK Government’s approach to welfare is having:
Official Benefit Cap statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions show:
- 3,320 Scottish households were capped in May 2019.
- 94% of these households are only capped because the cap was lowered in November 2016.
- The number of households capped has decreased around 15% since 2017.
Among households with capped Housing Benefit:
- Two thirds were lone parents.
- 91% contain children. 87% of this 91% contain three or more children.
- 70% lived in the social rented sector.
- Capped households lost £64 per week on average.
The UK Government has announced that the benefits freeze is to come to an end from 2020. However no equivalent announcement has been made in relation to the cap, reducing or eliminating the potential benefits to some families from the reversal of the freeze.
Updated analysis on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) suggests as a result of the 4 year freeze to LHA rates, only 11 out of 90 LHA rates in Scotland are now set at the level allowing families to rent a home in the 30th percentile (i.e. the bottom third) of the rental market.
Since the previous report (published in May 2018):
- Whilst the situation has improved for 11 of the 90 Scottish LHA rates, 36 of the rates have seen a reduction in the proportion of the market that is available.
- 4 LHA rates give access to less than 5% of the market.
- The share of rental market that under 35s can access within the LHA rate has decreased in all areas or Scotland.
While recent announcements about ending the freeze on the LHA rate have been welcome, this does not go far enough in helping ensure people can meet their housing costs. Fundamental concerns remain about the Benefit Cap and the roll out of UC with its inherent challenges including the in-built minimum 5 week delay in receiving the first UC payment.
Whilst the national homelessness statistics are a vital part of how we monitor progress towards meetings the aims set out in the Action Plan, we are aware that there are gaps in our knowledge, particularly in respect of people who have not approached their local authority for support.
We need a range of evidence and information to help us fully understand the impact of our actions and the best ways forward. We are therefore working across the sector to build on current local data and case management systems to develop a new rough sleeping data collection to provide a more in-depth source of shared information about people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
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