2 We will end homelessness by preventing it from happening to people in the first place
In recent years, a shift has been under way in homelessness services towards a greater focus on preventing homelessness, alongside efforts to support those who are already homeless. It is vital that we build on this progress to secure even greater efforts to prevent homelessness before it occurs, and to act quickly when it does happen to prevent the situation worsening and leading to a cycle of repeat homelessness for that person.
The evidence shows us that some groups of people are at particular risk of homelessness. We want to see a step change in the prevention of homelessness, so we must design our systems across housing and wider public services to minimise the chance of those at risk becoming homeless, and to maximise the opportunity to put the right support in place for the right people at the right time.
Analysis of pathways into homelessness and associated forms of severe and multiple disadvantage concluded that:
“Perhaps the most significant policy implications of this research relates to homelessness prevention … prevention interventions should focus on earlier signs of distress wherever possible, with schools, drug and alcohol services and the criminal justice system likely to come into contact with people vulnerable to … homelessness well before housing and homelessness services do.”
Adverse childhood experiences increase the risk of homelessness in adult life. Scottish Government commitments to preventing and reducing the impact of adverse childhood experiences are critical in preventing homelessness:
1. Providing inter-generational support for parents, families and children to prevent ACEs
2. Reducing the negative impact of ACEs for children and young people
3. Developing adversity and trauma-informed workforce and services
4. Increasing societal awareness and supporting action across communities
As Chart 2 shows, people make homelessness applications for a variety of reasons. Being asked to leave is one of the main causes of homelessness applications (25%). Dispute within the household (and relationship breakdown) is another key driver of homelessness.
Chart 2: Reasons for Homelessness Main reason for making a homelessness application (2017-2018 statistics)
Chart 3: Prior housing circumstances of applications 2016-17 and -18
Chart 3 further illustrates the range of experience people have prior to making a homelessness application.
We have heard from those with experience of homelessness that to be effective, prevention must include a close look at transitions (e.g. leaving care, leaving hospital, leaving prison, military) and at how we support people to maintain a tenancy when a tenant is vulnerable (e.g. avoiding homelessness for women and children experiencing domestic abuse) or when challenges arise (e.g. rent arrears, anti-social behaviour).
One of the most powerful tools in preventing homelessness across our population is to continue to ensure a strong supply of affordable housing, in the right places and with the right infrastructure to support communities and individuals alike to flourish.
Similarly, an adequate system of social security, which provides the safety net to ensure that everyone is able to meet their housing costs alongside other needs is crucial to prevent rent arrears and financial difficulty leading to homelessness for those on low incomes.
Much good practice already exists and it will be important to build on this and help great ideas spread throughout the country. A cultural change will be needed in some places, and ensuring that prevention is embedded as a defining principle of our system will support this. That is why we will develop a wide-reaching prevention duty, as a legal backstop to ensure the change needed happens everywhere and to ensure it is sustained over time.
Actions we will take:
We will develop preventative pathways for the groups at highest risk of rough sleeping and homelessness. During 2019 we will review the evidence and identify the timetable and process for the design and implementation of preventative pathways for each high-risk group. Where pathways have already been developed, such as the SHORE standards (Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone) for people leaving prison, we will support local authorities and delivery partners in their implementation. Through 2020-23, pathways will be developed and implemented with consideration of the groups at highest risk of rough sleeping and the highest proportion of people who become homeless. We will target our efforts in accordance with evidence, seeking to develop and share good practice that already exists. We recognise that effective prevention of homelessness must recognise the particular needs of people, mainly women and children, fleeing domestic abuse. We will seek to adopt housing advice, Housing Options and housing management actions to avoid homelessness for families in this situation. This will build on the ongoing work with the Chartered Institute of Housing and Scottish Women’s Aid. We will work with people with lived experience across at risk groups to ensure we are working towards solutions tailored for specific groups that will prevent people from becoming homeless.
We will ensure a clear, effective focus on preventing and responding effectively to youth homelessness. Rapid rehousing transition plans will be required to respond appropriately to the needs of young people experiencing homelessness, and include the planning and development of pathways and a range of affordable housing options and associated supports for young people. We will ensure the consistent application of the Staying Put provision for care leavers and effective implementation of the Scottish Government Missing Person’s Framework.
We will increase the focus on sustaining tenancies ensuring that support is available for those who need it. Preventing people from losing their home will be a priority in our efforts to end homelessness and rough sleeping. An important way of doing this is ensuring the right tenancy sustainment support is available at the right time. We will work with the Scottish Housing Regulator to understand the current position on the housing support duty, and we will audit current expectations, delivery and plans for tenancy sustainment as a part of rapid rehousing transition plans. This will inform the development of best practice/an action plan to maximise tenancy sustainment, working with the Scottish Housing Regulator. Tenancy sustainment forms part of the rapid rehousing transition plans that each local authority is working on, and we will identify ways to work with social housing providers to use all opportunities to support housing sustainment, and we will take a specific focus on how similar approaches could be applied in the private rented sector. We will specify expectations resulting from this work in the Code of Guidance.
We will work with local authorities to identify how to make homelessness assessments more flexible. In 2019 we will work with local authorities to develop plans to make it as easy as possible for people to access their right to assistance. We want to ensure that everyone in need of accessing homelessness services is able to access those services in a way that fits with their needs. While the statutory duty for assessments will remain with local authorities, this may include how homelessness services for those in greatest need can be provided in the places where people are being supported and feel secure, as well as finding alternative ways to reach people who are not currently being supported and are vulnerable. We will explore ways that local authorities can be supported to discharge their statutory function through partnership with housing associations and the wider public sector and third sector.
We will embed a ‘no wrong door’ approach. We will lead the cultural and systemic changes required to ensure local authorities, housing providers, delivery partners and public bodies (such as housing providers; prisons; care services; health services and the police) work together to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping at every opportunity. We will seek to build links between front-line line service providers across public services to ensure they understand they need to be part of the solution to solving homelessness for people, what actions they can take, and how this can contribute to key outcomes in their service areas.
We will continue to invest in a strong, affordable and social housing supply. Through 2019 we will ensure that homelessness prevention and exiting homelessness are treated as key drivers in the development of the Beyond 2021 Housing Strategy, to ensure that the levels of affordable housing and the housing supply mix helps support a rapid rehousing approach as an integral part of a longer term housing strategy. In 2020-21 we will continue to invest in housing supply as we work towards our target of building 50,000 affordable homes in the course of this Parliament, of which 35,000 will be for social rent. Going forward, the development of the rapid rehousing transition plans will identify specific pressures on the supply of properties for people experiencing homelessness to move into and we will use the information to help steer future supply policy.
In partnership between local and national government and the wider sector we will continue to push the UK Government to reverse the changes to the welfare system they have introduced that put people at risk of homelessness. This includes continuing to pursue the UKG on issues including addressing the calculation of Local Housing Allowance; the Benefit Cap, the benefit freeze and halting the roll out of Universal Credit until it is fixed, as well as seeking their support to help us mitigate the bedroom tax and ultimately abolish it at source. We recognise these issues amongst others can all contribute to debt, hardship and risk tenancies – for example the in-built minimum five-week delay in receiving a first UC payment.
In 2019 we will undertake a full analysis of the HARSAG recommendations on changes to the UK welfare system policy and delivery. Recognising that powers in this area are currently reserved, we will work collaboratively with DWP to maximise operational improvements to make sure that people experiencing homelessness and those at the risk of homelessness are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.
We will work with public bodies, housing providers and other partners to develop a new duty on local authorities, wider public bodies and delivery partners for the prevention of homelessness. This is a significant change and will require careful planning. In particular we need to ensure that a new duty does not undermine the strengths of the existing homelessness rights. We will learn from evaluation of prevention duties elsewhere and we will set out a timetable for our plans in 2019.
Email: Ruth Whatling