Actions we will take 3: we will prioritise settled homes for all
The right to housing
Our aim is that everyone should have a home that meets their needs. Having a settled home is the best way to ensure people can live their lives with good health, wellbeing and a sense of community and belonging. It is vital that we embed a housing-led response to homelessness supported by strong partnerships with other public services. A settled home acts as the foundation for a person to tackle an array of challenges including poverty, addictions, mental and health problems and avoiding offending and reoffending.
Having a settled home also allows us to focus on other goals such as community, connection, education, employment and wellbeing. In this way, a settled home is crucial to promoting inclusion and equality and to our vision for a fairer Scotland. We are already committed to supporting the development of a wider range of options for a settled home so that people are helped to find a housing solution that works for them. We will continue to develop and build on best practice examples of alternative housing options, including shared living and other models as an active choice where appropriate.
The right to housing is a human right enshrined in international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognise the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The UK and Scottish governments and local authorities therefore have an obligation to protect and promote people’s right to adequate housing. The First Minister of Scotland’s advisory group on human rights leadership published a report in December 2018 with recommendations aimed at ensuring Scotland is an international leader in building a rights-based society. This included a section on economic, social and cultural rights and the right to adequate housing.
As set out in our programme for government 2020/21, the Scottish Government will continue work on the First Minister’s national taskforce for human rights leadership, to deliver a radical blueprint for human rights legislation covering all areas of devolved responsibility, including the right to adequate housing. To take this forward we will build our understanding of the impact of incorporation of these rights on current housing and homelessness policy and we will review existing legislation to ensure that housing rights are strengthened as intended.
We know that a housing-led approach reduces the need for many forms of temporary accommodation. Rapid rehousing means making sure that everyone that has experienced homelessness is helped into permanent accommodation as quickly as possible rather than staying in temporary accommodation for too long.
“Moving from one temporary furnished flat to another caused me to relapse. It was an unfamiliar area, I had no support network. Moving impacted my children, they had to move schools and are isolated.”
Rapid rehousing was one of the main recommendations in the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group’s first suite of reports, and was central to our 2018 action plan. Two years on and Scotland’s transition to a rapid rehousing approach is well underway, representing significant culture and systems change in how we respond to homelessness. All 32 councils have rapid rehousing transition plans (RRTPs) and have been implementing them for over a year. This means they are well-placed to respond quickly with appropriate housing solutions as we transition out of the crisis and continue this transformation.
Housing First is an important component of our rapid rehousing approach, offering settled accommodation and wraparound support to people with multiple and complex needs. It is a well-evidenced and effective model. The principle of Housing First is that a safe, secure home is the best base for addressing any support needs. Most councils included Housing First in their rapid rehousing transition plans as a means of addressing unmet support needs.
The Scottish Government has allocated £32.5 million from the Ending Homelessness Together fund and from the health budget for rapid rehousing and Housing First so that local authorities and partners can support people into settled accommodation first and then help them with their longer term support needs.
We know that in order to provide effective person-centred support, we have to understand people’s individual needs and experiences. Equality impact assessments in RRTPs – along with personal housing plans and trauma-informed assessments – provide a mechanism for generating this comprehensive understanding and ensuring that local authorities tackle any barriers that exist for specific groups. In February 2020, local authorities were asked to submit an updated RRTP along with an activities and spend monitoring template. These plans have been reviewed by Scottish Government and feedback has been provided.
The Scottish Government held a national event in February 2020 with national RRTP coordinators to share ideas, experiences and learning. We continue to support local authorities and partners to share good practice through the housing options hubs meetings (now engaging fortnightly), national meetings and events. In June 2020, we introduced in an electronic platform to connect RRTP coordinators and encourage collaboration. We have established a running list of ideas – known as a “basket of ideas” – where examples of different practices and projects are shared for other local authorities to consider and adapt to their local circumstances as we learn collectively about the shift to rapid rehousing.
Homeless Network Scotland and Crisis are developing a guide to help local authorities review their RRTPs in light of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group’s recent recommendations. The guide has been tested with a focus group of local authorities and will be further developed in the light of feedback.
Local authorities have already been considering what changes need to be made to their RRTPs as a result of COVID-19, including on rapid housing access and plans for stepping back from use of hotels and night shelters. The intention is to ensure these types of accommodation are not inadvertently designed back into the being developed include:
- changes to temporary accommodation legislation and standards;
- strengthened prevention activity, including earlier housing-led intervention work to prevent homelessness;
- learning about the impact of wider housing choice, such as shared living, and continued development of alternative settled housing options; and
- a national Housing First development framework (for pathfinder and non-pathfinder areas).
The Scottish Government will continue to support and fund Housing First in the pathfinder areas (Aberdeen/shire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling) until the end of March 2022. Progress has slowed down because of the pandemic; nonetheless, by the end of August 2020, 306 tenancies had been set up with a tenancy sustainment rate of 87%. To date, nobody has been evicted from their home.
“A few months after arriving [in shared hostel], I was offered a home of my own through the Housing First programme. I refused it but when a house came up in an area I was familiar with, I decided to take the chance. At first, I hated it. I could feel the walls closing in like before. But the Housing First support staff were incredible. They stood by me every step of the way and did everything they could to help me adjust to living in my own home. I’ve now been in my wee house for almost a year and I love it. I’m always thinking about different things to do to improve it. I can see me living here for the rest of my life, hopefully.”
The focus will now shift to secure mainstreaming of Housing First funding from local authority budgets and contributions from other local partners so there is no cliff edge when the support from the Scottish Government and its current funding partners ends. We will support the Housing First Training Academy, which is supporting the Housing First pathfinder, to include training on gender inequality.
“That is the best sleep I have had in 14 years.”
Male, after spending the first night in his new home. He had lived on the street for 12 years and then spent two years in emergency accommodation.
We continue to support a national roll out of Housing First, building on the learning from the pathfinder programme and its evaluation being conducted by Heriot-Watt University, including understanding any differences in relation to the experience and impact of Housing First for women and men. By the end of March 2021, 27 local authorities in Scotland will have adopted Housing First. The Housing First national development framework is being finalised to support the rapid scaling up of Housing First and is due to be published in October 2020. It will include a focus on gender.
We will build on these early results and work with local authorities to scale up Housing First more rapidly.
Local authorities and their partners plan to increase the number of lets to people who will benefit from Housing First. There will be more advanced matching of people to tenancies to reduce refusals and ensure people are more involved in the selection of their tenancy. Some local authorities and their partners have already begun to include the private rented sector as a source of settled homes. This can offer additional choice to Housing First tenants and is something we are keen to explore further.
“Housing First has helped me to recover from my drug addiction by finding me a new home.”
We will work towards Housing First being a realistic option for those at risk of repeat homelessness or currently in public institutions such as prisons. We saw examples of this happening during the early release scheme. Local authorities will make sure that the learning from this experience is captured.
“The [Housing First] support has been amazing and coming out of prison into my own tenancy has made a difference as I have been away from negative influences and [it] feels that with Housing First support I will be able to remain in my home and not return to prison.”
Social housing allocations
It is important for every social landlord to have a social housing allocation policy that complies with all relevant legislation and statutory guidance. The allocation policy should also reflect housing needs in the area in which the landlord has homes for rent. What works well in one area will not necessarily work in another and allocation polices should reflect the circumstances and housing needs of the communities covered by the policy.
The Scottish Government and COSLA issued non-statutory guidance for local authorities, social landlords and private rented sector landlords in April 2020 to help them meet their duties during the coronavirus pandemic. We know there is existing good practice with some councils making 100% of their social housing allocations available to homeless households, but we want to see a greatly increased proportion of social housing allocations going to those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This may mean rebalancing needs across housing lists to give greater priority to households who are more at risk in this period. This will support those on the long waiting lists that have developed during the crisis as well as those who were waiting for access to a social home before the pandemic hit.
Our shared ambition is to see a significant increase in the proportion of social homes allocated to people who are homeless while we are still in phase three of Scotland’s route map. The shared ambition to reduce homelessness and the number of households in temporary accommodation should be a key consideration in social home allocation at a local level. This will be achieved through joint working between councils and social landlords, maximising the allocation of accommodation to homeless households and adopting a rapid rehousing response.
Affordable housing supply
The Scottish Government remains committed to increasing the supply of affordable homes. We recognise the positive social and economic impact that investment in social housing contributes and we are committed to expanding our social housing stock.
Ensuring everyone has access to a safe, warm and affordable home is at the heart of our ambition for a fairer Scotland. That is why the Scottish Government has committed more than £3.5 billion to deliver our target of 50,000 affordable homes.
Between 2016 and the end of March 2020, we had delivered 34,791 affordable homes, of which over 23,000 were for social rent. This means that in the four years to 2019, we had delivered over 80% more affordable homes per head of population than in both England and Wales, 50% more homes per head than in Northern Ireland, and over eight times more social rented properties per head than in England. In total since 2007, the Scottish Government has delivered almost 96,000 affordable homes, of which over 66,000 were for social rent. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the construction industry, but we are working with partners across the housing sector to complete the delivery of our current 50,000 affordable homes target as soon as it is safe to do so.
To end homelessness, there is an urgent need for housing that provides people on low incomes with security, decent living conditions and affordable rents. Greater availability of social housing has been identified as the most important resource needed to help local authorities meet the needs of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This is a point regularly raised by people with lived experience of homelessness.
The need for affordable housing continues to outstrip available supply in some areas, which has led to a growing reliance on expensive and sometimes unsuitable temporary accommodation to house homeless households.
The affordable housing supply programme continues to offer flexibility and long term quality housing solutions, by funding a range of interventions to improve local housing supply. The interventions are based on the strategic priorities set out in a local authority’s local housing strategy and strategic housing investment plan. They depend on local need and can include site acquisitions, new build and acquisitions of existing homes. In some areas, increasing the number of homes may not be the answer and it can be more effective to replace obsolete homes or refurbish existing stock. Local authorities are required to consider how the existing stock can be better used, including bringing empty homes back into use, as part of their local housing strategies.
A joint letter from the Scottish housing minister and COSLA’s community wellbeing spokesperson was sent to the housing sector in May 2020 urging housing providers to prioritise the process of bringing empty rented properties back into use. Many local authorities and housing associations have found creative ways to overcome the challenges of returning homes to a lettable standard during the pandemic. We will continue to engage across the social and private rented sectors to support good practice, maximise housing options and remove barriers to supporting people experiencing homelessness.
We will encourage the housing sector to prioritise the process of bringing empty homes back into use and we will continue to share and promote good practice.
We will continue to work with the sector to support effective housing planning through local strategies and rapid rehousing transition plans.
Maximising housing options
The Scottish Government is increasing the provision of homes across all tenures through a range of measures including the affordable housing supply programme, the Rural and Islands Housing Fund, the Building Scotland Fund, the Housing Infrastructure Fund and innovative measures such as build-to-rent.
Initiatives that bring empty homes and obsolete buildings back into use as affordable housing can help tackle homelessness, meet local housing needs and improve housing conditions. The Scottish Government continues to support the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, which works with local authorities and other organisations to engage with owners of empty homes in the private sector. We doubled funding for the partnership in 2018-19, providing £423,000 for three years. The partnership has shown real benefits with more than 5,000 homes brought back into use since 2010. We want all local authorities to recognise the benefits of this approach and our ambition is to have dedicated empty homes officers operating in every area. The funding also supports the development of an enhanced empty homes advice service and new online resources.
Given the impact of COVID-19, we agreed with the empty homes partnership to adjust our focus to ensure continued employment of empty homes officers during the crisis, and to maintain this skilled capacity to support economic recovery as we emerge from lockdown.
Where it meets a tenant’s needs, ‘flipping’ temporary accommodation to permanent accommodation in the social and private rented sectors is another option that can result in more households being placed in suitable and settled accommodation. As it is a relatively new approach, we will explore methods of flipping privately rented temporary accommodation and share examples amongst local authorities.
Many local authorities already work with the private rented sector to increase the availability of private rented stock for people who are at risk of homelessness either through rent deposit guarantee schemes or private rented sector access schemes. Local authorities will continue to consider ways to facilitate access to the private rented sector where appropriate, and how to help people sustain tenancies there.
Perth and Kinross Council has a well-established range of private sector initiatives which have assisted more than 1,500 households to access good quality accommodation in the private rented sector since 2009/10.
The council has an in-house social letting agency, PKC Lets. A more traditional rent bond guarantee service is also offered. Empty homes work is linked into the private rented sector team, and grants are offered to owners of empty homes on condition that properties are rented at local housing allowance rate levels for at least five years.
We will support local authorities to build stronger relationships with the private rented sector and to develop their empty homes services and private rented sector access schemes. We will take this forward through the Joint Housing Resilience Chairs Group, which was set up to share housing issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic across the different housing resilience groups.
We know we need to increase access to housing stock to meet demand and prevent homelessness and we will consider all options for moving people safely from emergency or temporary accommodation to a settled home within a community.
We will consider the scope to extend the criteria of existing buy back schemes and to facilitate the transfer of empty private rented properties to the social rented sector.
In January 2020, the Scottish Government announced that local authorities would be given new powers to regulate the density and standards of short-term lets where they decide this is in the interests of local communities. The impact of COVID-19 delayed our work to regulate short-term lets in Scotland. However, we are aiming to lay secondary legislation in December 2020 to give local authorities powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas so that they can be in force by spring 2021. These powers will allow local authorities to balance the need for more homes and the concerns of their communities with wider economic and tourism interests. On 14 September, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on detailed proposals for regulating short-term lets in Scotland.
The UK chancellor announced an increase in local housing allowance rates in March 2020 after a long freeze, meaning more of the private rented sector is available to people facing homelessness. It is, however, unclear how long these rates will remain in place and we will continue to press for local housing allowance rates to be lifted further. The increase has returned us to the minimum of where we need to be and means that people can currently get more money towards their rent if they are in receipt of certain benefits.
The Scottish Government is funding Cyrenians, Crisis and Simon Community to conduct a pilot to facilitate settled accommodation in the private rented sector for around 15 individuals who were living in emergency hotel accommodation in Edinburgh. This includes people who had previously been rough sleeping, using the night shelter or people who had been moved from hotels into temporary accommodation. Four people have already moved into new homes. The pilot also includes medium-term support to help maximise tenancy sustainment. Learning will be captured and outcomes evaluated during the project, including tenancy sustainment rates. The findings will inform decision making on a Scotland-wide proposal for increasing access to the private rented sector. Learning from the pilot can also inform discussions of how to include private rented sector stock in Housing First projects effectively.
Housing to 2040
We have asked people across Scotland to help us plan for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040 and what we need to do to get there. We will use this to set out a 20-year plan for continuing to drive government investment to deliver good quality, energy efficient, zero carbon housing with access to outdoor space, transport links, digital connectivity, community services and our continued investment in delivering affordable housing.
The Housing to 2040 route map will be published later in 2020. The route map will draw on information gathered during the last two years of consultation and work with partners, including the members of the ‘housing system policy circle’ (part of the Social Renewal Advisory Board). We will ensure that the Ending Homelessness Together action plan and a longer term ambition to prevent homelessness are built into Housing to 2040. We will also make sure Housing to 2040 reflects our learning from the experience of the pandemic about the fundamental importance of safe housing for all.