Progress against actions in theme 2: we will prevent homelessness from happening in the first place
We have made good progress against the outstanding actions in this section. We have completed three actions; six actions are well underway; work has started on the five; and work will start on the remaining two in the next 12 months.
We said in our Ending homelessness together action plan that we and our partners would work together to ensure that our policies and practice to prevent and end homelessness are informed by a gendered analysis of homelessness. We have taken important steps towards this aim in the last year.
We said we would introduce the transfer of tenancy provisions for social housing tenancies as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The Scottish Government included provisions in the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill to improve the housing outcomes of victims-survivors of domestic abuse who are living in social housing. Making domestic abuse a specific ground for eviction in social housing sends a clear message to tenants that domestic abuse is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. These provisions should help to prevent homelessness in the immediate and longer term for victims-survivors of domestic abuse who wish to continue living in the family home.
- The Scottish Government passed the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill in March 2021 and it became an Act on 5 May 2021. The new legislation will, when the provisions come into force, help prevent women's homelessness by barring the perpetrator of domestic abuse from the home and giving social landlords the ability to transfer tenancies to the victim-survivor.
- Work to commence the social housing provisions in the Domestic Abuse (Protection) Act 2021 is underway and the legislation is expected to come into force by the end of 2022.
We said we would improve outcomes for women experiencing domestic abuse. This action is linked to our commitments to publish an implementation plan to respond to the recommendations of the domestic abuse pathway group and to develop and implement human rights-based accommodation pathways for women and children with no recourse to public funds who are experiencing domestic abuse.
Argyll and Bute Council has used the flexible emergency fund to respond rapidly on more than 120 occasions to people in critical need during the last year. The council has used the fund to help women experiencing domestic abuse to escape to a place of safety; purchase essential clothing; cover household bills following separation from abusive partners; and buy home security devices.
Feedback from recipients of the fund:
"My camera sends me a message if anybody is at my door and lets me see who it is even when I'm out and I'll remember to report it to the police every time it's him so they have it on record. This is my secret weapon! Can't thank you enough."
"Thank you for helping me get back on my feet. If I live to be 100 I'll never forget how trapped and helpless I felt before I called you. I was at rock bottom that day and when you said you could cover my petrol money to get us away from him it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a hard seven months but we're settled now, and the boys love their new school. One day at a time but we all love not being scared! God bless yous all xx!"
- We accepted 27 recommendations in December 2020 from an expert group chaired by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid (SWA) on how to improve housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. The report emphasised the need to protect all women, including victims-survivors with no recourse to public funds and EEA nationals.
- The Scottish Government reinforced the commitment to implement the recommendations in its Housing to 2040 strategy.
- Scottish Government officials led discussions with local authorities, COSLA, the Improvement Service and Public Health Scotland on the recommendations that focus on a gendered analysis of policies and practices.
- The Scottish Government is convening a group to implement and monitor the recommendations from the expert group, which includes the recommendation to develop and implement human rights-based accommodation pathways for women and children with no recourse to public funds. We have developed a draft implementation plan, which will be published once it has been agreed by the implementation group.
- Work is underway to consider the actions needed to improve housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in the private rented sector.
- We will also consider the actions needed to prevent homelessness for women and children in the Gypsy/Traveller community experiencing domestic abuse.
We said we would increase our focus on tenancy sustainment and share innovative and successful examples of early prevention and effective tenancy sustainment work.
All 32 local authorities are represented in the five housing options hubs. This model for sharing learning and experiences has been invaluable during the pandemic. It meant new and innovative practice could be passed on and rapidly adopted by hub members.
Perth and Kinross Council's 'Home First' approach to tackling homelessness has resulted in a 33 per cent reduction in homeless presentations since it was launched in 2017/18. The council has dramatically reduced its housing backlog from 537 homeless households waiting for an offer of settled housing to 31 households. This mature model of rapid rehousing has transformed the use of temporary accommodation in Perth and Kinross: fewer people are staying in temporary accommodation and stays are for much shorter periods of time.
- Local authorities have shared innovative approaches to homelessness prevention and tenancy sustainment through regular housing options hubs meetings; at focused sessions such as the rapid rehousing transition plan coordinators' event in June 2021 and the rural Housing First learning group; and at bilateral meetings.
- In November 2020, the Scottish Government made awards from the homelessness prevention fund to 11 housing association projects (more details are provided later in this section).
- The Scottish Government has allocated more than £80 million to enable local authorities to make discretionary housing payments (DHPs) in 2021/22. DHPs help sustain tenancies by supporting people who are struggling with their housing costs. They help mitigate the most harmful impacts of UK Government welfare reform, including the bedroom tax and benefit cap.
- To better support councils with the shift to rapid rehousing, the Scottish Government plans to develop a private rented sector forum so that local authorities can share learning and good practice on the use of the private rented sector for homelessness prevention and tenancy sustainment.
We said we would work with COSLA and local authorities to consider shared and more streamlined application processes for discretionary housing payments and use information sharing powers to help local authorities target people who are most in need of discretionary housing payments.
We know that local authorities have different processes for assessing applications for discretionary housing payments and application forms vary considerably in length and complexity. Financial and information technology constraints make it neither feasible nor desirable to introduce a standard application process. However, there is scope for improvement so that people who are struggling with their housing costs are not discouraged from seeking support.
Officials in the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had previously identified a legal route for sharing data with local authorities, which would facilitate identification of households in Scotland who could benefit from discretionary housing payments. Due to the pandemic, DWP officials have not had the capacity to prioritise this workstream and the work has been delayed.
- The Scottish Government has undertaken an initial analysis of the range of discretionary housing payment applications in use by local authorities and plan to set up a discretionary housing payment practitioner forum to share good practice among authorities.
- We will ask DWP officials to prioritise cross-government data sharing in the months ahead.
We also said we would understand the impact of UK welfare reforms and how this puts some people at greater risk of homelessness.
The Scottish Government continues to highlight to the UK Government the detrimental impact of its welfare reform policies on rent arrears, tenancy sustainment and food poverty and to push UK ministers to make changes to the welfare system.
- In March 2021, the Scottish Government published research on homelessness and universal credit, which investigated the links between universal credit and homelessness. While isolating the impact of universal credit on homelessness is challenging, the researchers observed some statistically significant correlations suggesting that benefit sanctions and the five-week-wait for the first payment have contributed to homelessness in Scotland.
- In August 2021, Shona Robison MSP, the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government; the Welsh Government's Minister for Social Justice; and the Northern Ireland Executive's Minister for Communities sent a joint letter to Thérèse Coffey MP, the UK Government's Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, expressing their grave concerns at the plans to allow the £20 per week increase to universal credit and working tax credits to expire, and urging her to reverse the decision.
- The Scottish Government and local authorities are working together to better understand the impact of the UK Government's decision earlier this year to freeze local housing allowance rates at the 30th percentile. This represents a cut in real terms and is likely to make it difficult for some tenants to afford their rent.
- We continue to work with the Scottish Fiscal Commission to assess UK Government data on housing benefit and universal credit caseloads so we can forecast the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland and put in place mitigation measures.
We said we would support the social housing sector to identify and support households at risk of homelessness before they reach crisis point and create a homelessness prevention fund for social landlords.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations is administering a three-year £1.5 million homelessness prevention fund on our behalf. Applicants to the fund were required to demonstrate how their projects would contribute to reducing child poverty and to preventing homelessness by supporting households most at risk of poverty and homelessness, including lone parents, people with a disability, larger families, victims-survivors of domestic abuse or young parents.
- In November 2020, the Scottish Government made awards from the homelessness prevention fund to 11 housing association projects . The projects support tenants by offering services such as advice on income maximisation, mentoring, preventing eviction and promoting tenancy sustainment.
- We will monitor the impacts of these projects and ensure good practice is shared.
We said we would develop a cross-sector project to establish mechanisms for avoiding evictions into homelessness.
The Scottish Government is already taking forward a range of activity to avoid evictions into homelessness. We have made significant progress in improving standards, tenants' rights and support schemes but we want to do more. We plan, as part of the draft rented sector strategy to be published by the end of 2021, to deliver a new deal for tenants.
- The Scottish Government will carry out a public consultation on the new deal for tenants early next year which will include plans for a new housing regulator for the private rented sector; new and strengthened tenants' rights; greater restrictions on evictions over winter; and additional penalties for illegal evictions.
- As part of this work, we will examine mechanisms for avoiding evictions into homelessness.
- The final rented sector strategy – which we will publish later in 2022 – will be backed up by a Housing Bill in the second year of this parliamentary session.
We also said we would take forward further awareness raising activity on financial support and tenancy rights.
- In December 2020, the Scottish Government's £10 million tenant hardship loan fund opened for applications, offering interest-free loans to tenants who are struggling with rent arrears.
- We organised a social media campaign in December 2020 to raise awareness of tenants' rights and the financial support available, including the tenant hardship loan fund.
- To support tenants who have built up significant arrears during the pandemic, we announced plans in June 2021 for a £10 million grant to avoid evictions. The new fund launched at the end of September 2021.
- A further national tenancy rights awareness campaign is planned later in 2021.
We said we would look further at affordability in the private rented sector, building on the work to set up and review rent pressure zones.
As set out in the Housing to 2040 strategy, we want everyone to have access to a safe, warm, affordable home whether they are tenants in the social rented or private rented sectors or owner-occupiers and rents are affordable is an essential part of realising that vision. For many people, the private rented sector has become increasingly unaffordable. The Scottish Government's proposals for rent control are rooted in addressing the high rents we see in parts of the private rented sector.
- In line with the commitment to deliver a new deal for tenants, the Scottish Government will implement an effective national system of rent controls, with an appropriate mechanism to allow local authorities to introduce local measures.
- We know that this work depends on having good quality data on local rental markets and we will set out our intentions for collecting better data in the private rented sector by the end of 2021.
- A national system of rent controls must be sufficiently flexible to respond to different circumstances across Scotland. To get this right, we will consult on the options. Our aim is to introduce legislation and implement rent controls by the end of 2025.
- We will develop a shared understanding of housing affordability, which is fit for the future; takes account of the inequalities and economics of the housing market; relates to people's income and circumstances; and takes into consideration the real costs of housing. To do this, we will work with and consider the views of a wider range of stakeholders, some of whom are not finding their needs adequately met by the market.
We said we would assess the impact of temporary pre-action protocols in the private rented sector to inform the development of permanent pre-action protocols.
Work to gather and assess information on the impact of the rent arrears pre-action requirements on private landlords is nearing completion.
- The Scottish Government launched a consultation on COVID recovery on 17 August 2021 to seek the public's views on legislative reform to support Scotland's recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This includes asking stakeholders for their views on making the pre-action requirements for private landlords permanent. The consultation is due to close on 9 November 2021.
We also said we would support the First-tier Tribunal to improve transparency around outcomes for tenants through better use of data.
- In March 2021, the President of Scottish Tribunals published an annual report covering the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 providing more information on case types and outcomes for the Housing and Property Chamber than in previous years.
- We will continue to review the data provided by the President of Scottish Tribunals to monitor tribunal decisions and keep abreast of policy implementation, including changes to in response to the pandemic.
We said we would develop prevention pathways for groups at particular risk. This includes commitments to develop rapid protocols with public institutions as part of the prevention pathway work and to test, learn from and improve the homelessness prevention approaches recommended in the pathways.
We also said we would prevent and respond effectively to youth homelessness.
- Two new pathways to prevent homelessness have been published in the last year: Improving housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse in December 2020 and the Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway in March 2021.
- The second Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway addresses the needs of all young people who are at risk of homelessness, including young people with care experience or at the edges of care, LGBTI+ young people, those involved in the justice or health systems and those who have multiple and complex needs. The report recommends that all those involved in delivering services should be trauma-informed.
- We have convened a group involving the Scottish Government's improving lives for people with care experience unit, the Away Home Scotland coalition and CELCIS (the centre for excellence for children's care and protection) to lead the effective implementation of recommendations in both the first youth homelessness prevention pathway for care leavers Improving Care Leavers Housing Pathways, which was published in November 2019, and the second Youth Homelessness Prevention Pathway.
- The Scottish Government is developing monitoring plans as we implement the recommendations of the existing prevention pathways so that we can measure the impact of the changes we are making and make any necessary changes. We will provide evidence of impact in future annual reports.
- A pathway to prevent homelessness for veterans and service leavers is in development and is due to be completed by November 2021.
- We have committed to developing a homelessness prevention pathway for people leaving hospital. The new homelessness prevention duty and statutory guidance will specifically address hospital discharge.
We said we would respond to the recommendations from the prevention review group, setting out our next steps in 2021.
We are very grateful for the work of the expert group and are pleased that the report was developed in consultation with people with lived and frontline experience of homelessness. We made it clear in our Ending homelessness together action plan, in Housing to 2040 and in the programme for government 2021/22 that we are absolutely committed to preventing homelessness from happening in the first place. We believe that the new prevention measures, once implemented, will make Scotland a world leader in preventing and ending homelessness.
- The Scottish Government and COSLA welcomed the recommendations of the prevention review group when they were published in February 2021.
- The Scottish Government has set out the next steps for meeting the commitment to new homelessness prevention legislation in programme for government 2021/22.
- We have developed a delivery plan and are engaging with stakeholders in the wider public, private and third sectors to raise awareness of the proposals.
- Many local authorities are already doing excellent work on homelessness prevention, which we can build on and learn from.
- Scottish Government officials have consulted with counterparts in the UK and Welsh Governments who already have a prevention duty in place. We are learning from their experiences and from the impact evaluations they have carried out.
- We will launch a public consultation by the end of 2021 seeking views on the development and implementation of the homelessness prevention legislation.
- We intend to introduce the new homelessness prevention legislation via the upcoming Housing (Scotland) Bill during 2022/23.
We said we would review implementation of the SHORE (sustainable housing on release for everyone) standards.
We know that people leaving prison are at high risk of homelessness. An important part of preparing people to reintegrate successfully in their community is by ensuring that their housing needs are identified and prioritised. The SHORE review was delayed due to the pandemic but work has now resumed.
- Late in 2020, the Scottish Government re-established the review steering group, created a terms of reference and refreshed the group's membership to ensure we had input from professionals with an understanding of the needs of prison leavers at risk of homelessness.
- The Scottish Government has already engaged with all 32 local authorities and a number of community justice partnerships to map national provision of the housing options available for prison leavers.
- We also met with representatives of the Change team to hear from people with lived experience of homelessness and the justice system.
- The steering group will consider the findings from the mapping exercise once the information has been analysed. We anticipate that the steering group will make recommendations for the most suitable national delivery model, and the steps to achieve this, in 2022.
- We are supporting the Scottish Prison Service to hold focus groups in prisons.
- We will undertake a similar mapping exercise with the Scottish Prison estate.
- We will work closely with the Scottish Prison Service to revise the SHORE standards, taking into account any recommendations from the steering group, while strengthening approaches for women and young people in the justice system. We are also considering the impact of being released from court into homelessness.
We said we would work with local authorities to make homelessness assessments more flexible in order to make it as easy as possible for people to access their right to assistance.
- Local authority housing officers and third sector partners in some areas have information sharing protocols in place so that they can tackle rough sleeping more effectively. Third sector partners provide information to the council so that homelessness assessments and offers of accommodation can happen more rapidly. This results in a more integrated and timely response to an individual's accommodation and support needs.
- We plan to develop this model further to involve registered social landlords.
- We intend to develop a shared case management system to enable confidential exchange of relevant information between organisations supporting people experiencing homelessness. The Scottish Government will work in collaboration with frontline organisations, local authorities and people with lived experience of homelessness to develop the new system. We will restart this work by the end of 2021.