Ending homelessness together: updated action plan - October 2020
Updated Ending Homelessness Together action plan, outlining how national government, local government and third sector partners will work together on our shared ambition to end homelessness. It has been revised to reflect actions needed in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Actions we will take 4: we will respond quickly and effectively whenever homelessness happens
Keeping people safe now and in the winter months
While rough sleeping is not acceptable at any time of year, we know that in cold weather it can be fatal. As the winter months approach, we must take action to reduce the impact of coronavirus and protect people experiencing homelessness, particularly those at risk of rough sleeping.
Following an exceptional response to the public health emergency by partners across the public and third sectors, hundreds of people who had previously been rough sleeping or in unsuitable congregate accommodation were rapidly offered a place of safety. While we are moving through the phases of Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis, the pandemic is far from over. We must continue to protect all those at risk of ending up on the street. We know too that there will be new cases of homelessness during this difficult period.
We acknowledge that hotels and other emergency accommodation are a short-term solution. More sustainable options are needed both for individuals and for local authorities so that people are supported into a settled home that keeps them safe and meets their needs. Many people who were accommodated during the crisis have already moved on to more settled accommodation. Local authorities will continue to carry out regular audits of the numbers and needs of people in emergency and temporary accommodation and the options available to them. Summaries of these audits will be shared with the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group.
We will continue to support local authorities and health and social care partners with their efforts to provide appropriate move on support and stable accommodation for all those currently in emergency accommodation.
We know that a ‘housing-led’ approach reduces the need for many forms of temporary accommodation. We will therefore continue to support local authorities and partners to transition to a culture of rapid rehousing by default, where the emphasis is on helping people into permanent accommodation before addressing any other needs.
While there has been fast tracking of people from hostels to hotels and from hotels to other temporary accommodation during the pandemic, a settled home must be the priority and we must ensure that other needs are met – from furniture and starter packs to mental health support and connection to others within communities – so that tenancies do not break down. We already fund a scheme that allows frontline homelessness organisations to make instant pay outs to people to pay for clothing or copies of lost documents.
We also provided funding to Homeless Network Scotland to create a ‘staying in fund’ so that cash payments of up to £100 could be made available to people experiencing homelessness in Scotland. The fund closed within three days of opening and awards were made to 1,025 people.
We have an opportunity to learn and document what worked well, and what did not work well in our response to the pandemic. There has already been positive evaluation of the effectiveness of the ‘staying in fund’. We will consider what further support is needed to help people with the transition out of the crisis.
“I plan to use the voucher to purchase items in preparation for when I have secure accommodation and achieve a positive move on. It will make such a difference, it is helping me get started and on my feet.”
“Wow! Thank you so much! This will help me so much right now. Feel like I’ve won the lottery and actually cried a wee bit with happiness when I read this email. Phone bill, gas and electric and some left to stock up the freezer. You’ve made my day/week/month. Totally renewed my faith in humanity with this gesture, thank you once again.” Quotes from staying in fund recipients
“We have been able to encourage people to shop in their local stores and supermarkets as well which has helped them connect with their communities. The fund has had an incredibly positive impact on all. For those really feeling the effects of increased isolation and boredom, the receipt of the voucher was a huge pick me up and really lifted their spirits.” Service manager, Salvation Army
“The staying in fund made a massive difference for our residents. As they were in their flats more, their fuel bills were more, so they were able to top up their meters. The relief was seen in the residents as some did not know where they were going to get extra money for this.” Hostel Support Worker, South Ayrshire Council
Ending the use of night shelters
No-one should have to sleep rough in Scotland or stay in unsuitable congregate accommodation. The pandemic has highlighted the challenges of infection control in dormitory-style settings. We are therefore committed to seeing a planned move away from night shelter provision in favour of rapid and settled housing options. Scotland’s night shelters closed at the start of this pandemic and have not reopened. Instead, people were accommodated in hotels and other self-contained accommodation. Frontline staff have been using this opportunity to work with individuals to offer them better options than they had before so that they do not return to unsuitable communal settings or to the streets as we move through and out of the crisis.
Scotland’s Everyone Home Collective published its first route map, Ending the need for night shelter and hotel room provision, in June 2020. It proposes actively phasing out the use of hotel accommodation and night shelters by scaling up rapid rehousing and Housing First.
In our programme for government 2020/21, we agreed to modify night shelter provision this winter, with the aim of ending the use of night shelter and dormitory style provision in future.
We know we will always need some form of emergency accommodation. In the short term, night shelters will be replaced by rapid rehousing welcome centres. This approach will build on existing good practice to provide an under-one-roof and multi-agency triage for people at the sharpest end of homelessness, providing rapid access to Housing First where required. Where there is no alternative option, welcome centres will provide a bed for the night as well as support to enable guests to move on to preferred accommodation as quickly as possible – and ideally within 24 hours.
We will continue to work with local authorities and other partners to provide access to safe and self-contained accommodation during the pandemic.
We will support our partners to modify existing night shelter provision in Edinburgh and Glasgow in winter 2020/21 by contributing to the cost of rapid rehousing welcome centres and actively end the use of night shelter and dormitory-style provision in future.
Support for people with no recourse to public funds
The UK Government applies a condition of no recourse to public funds to people staying in the UK who are subject to immigration control, including people on visas, people seeking asylum and people with insecure status. This means a significant number of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are unable to access the safety net offered through the benefits system or earn an income through paid work. The UK immigration legislation also restricts access to local authority accommodation for people who are subject to immigration control.
The task of supporting people with no recourse to public funds who are experiencing homelessness and destitution during COVID-19 has been left to the third sector, local authorities and devolved governments, using the limited powers we have.
COSLA has published guidance for local authorities setting out how they can fulfil their safeguarding duties towards people with no recourse to public funds during this period. The Scottish Government has also introduced emergency legislation (the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020) so all overseas visitors in Scotland – regardless of their immigration status – will not be charged for the diagnosis and treatment of the coronavirus.
The Scottish Government and COSLA have committed to publishing an anti-destitution strategy to support people who have no recourse to public funds. The strategy will set out measures to protect human rights and help support people out of destitution. Work on the strategy was temporarily paused to focus on the response to COVID-19 but will now resume. The draft strategy has been informed by engagement with local authorities, support organisations and people with lived experience. It will be enhanced by lessons learned during the pandemic.
To reduce the spread of the virus, Scottish local authorities are providing support and accommodation to people with no recourse to public funds to protect public health. The Scottish Government provided over £1.5 million to third sector organisations in Edinburgh and Glasgow to enable them to acquire emergency hotel accommodation for people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness, including people with no recourse to public funds.
However, this is not sustainable in the longer term. To enable the Scottish Government and local authorities to continue to provide accommodation for people with no recourse to public funds as we transition out of the crisis and to support people to meet their own housing costs over time would require the UK Government to suspend the no recourse to public funds condition. The UK Government’s policy on no recourse to public funds is one of the greatest barriers in our efforts to end homelessness and rough sleeping. We need to be able to act early and preventatively to support people with no recourse to public funds, who do not have an adequate income or secure immigration status, in order to tackle migrant homelessness. However, Scotland lacks the policy levers required and, without access to the mainstream benefits system, this will continue to be a significant challenge.
The UK Government’s immigration policy stands in our way. The no recourse to public funds condition has pushed some of the most vulnerable people in our communities into destitution; severely affected people from outside the UK who face homelessness in Scotland; and made it harder for homelessness services to help people. The complexity of the rules means that many of those who are eligible for support from the asylum system or for a change of status to access public funds do not understand their rights or how to access them. Application processes can also be slow. Evidence has shown that the majority of people with no recourse to public funds who receive support from local authorities are eventually granted access to public funds by the UK Government and have their right to be in the UK recognised, but first have to endure years of poverty and uncertainty. This includes families with children and adults with care needs.
Despite repeated calls from Scottish ministers, the UK Government has given no indication that it will change its position. We will continue to press for change and, to this end, we are forming alliances with like-minded partners, including other devolved nations and cities.
We do not want to see basic human rights to food and shelter withdrawn. Individuals who are currently in a place of safety should not face destitution or be forced to resort to desperate means in the aftermath of the crisis. We recognise that we have an opportunity now to do things differently and to rebuild a stronger and fairer future.
This aim is supported by the Everyone Home Collective, which published its second route map, Scotland’s ambition to end destitution and protect human rights, in August 2020. The route map proposes a cross-government, cross-sector approach to protect the rights of people at risk because of their immigration status.
We will continue to work with the Everyone Home Collective so that the route map informs our forthcoming anti-destitution strategy.
The Scottish Government and COSLA will continue to press the UK Government to address migrant homelessness; to review its inhumane policy on people with no recourse to public funds; and to clarify the protection to be afforded to those without recourse to public funds. We believe people have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. We will therefore continue to work to the limit of our devolved powers and explore any potential flexibilities we have to support those with no recourse to public funds who are facing destitution.
We will explore alternative routes, such as philanthropic investment, through which to provide accommodation to people with no recourse to public funds.
We and our funding partners will extend funding for the humanitarian and legal projects that provide advocacy and legal advice to destitute asylum seekers and people with no recourse to public funds.
In order to end homelessness for people with no recourse to public funds, local authorities must also be able to develop and resource housing pathways for vulnerable adults and families with children, and partners must support people to access appropriate immigration and legal advice. Work is already underway to look at how to improve housing outcomes for women and children with no recourse to public funds experiencing domestic abuse. We will take the lessons learned here and review the housing needs of those with other statutory entitlements to strengthen the provision of statutory support on human rights and safeguarding grounds. COSLA will further support this work by assisting local authorities in the development of effective referral pathways between housing, social work and third sector partners.
A national model of frontline outreach
In 2019, we worked with stakeholders and developed six strategic priorities for a national model of frontline outreach to support people off the streets, whether they are sleeping rough and/or street begging.
We will continue to explore the reasons why people continue to beg and/or sleep rough. We know that mental health and addiction problems can play a part but for some begging offers a sense of community. We need to better understand the consequence of social isolation and the desire for connection. A model of effective frontline outreach needs to consider interventions to prevent street homelessness as well as immediate responses when rough sleeping and/or begging is occurring.
We will continue to embed a no-wrong door approach across all frontline services to prevent people from entering street homelessness in the first place, but also to support them off the streets when the situation arises.
We have already made progress against some of the strategic priorities. As a result of the concerted efforts of local authorities, the Scottish Prison Service and their local partners during the early release scheme, the ambitions set out in the Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone (SHORE) standards were met in full. No-one was liberated from prison without an offer of accommodation. The Scottish Government, local authorities and the Scottish Prison Service are now reflecting on this experience to ensure we capture and implement this way of working as we transition through and out of the crisis. In the same way, joined up efforts by frontline services mean that we have been better able to support people with no recourse to public funds during the pandemic.
We will continue to explore different models of frontline outreach services across the country to increase our understanding about what works. Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will identify and share good practice to inform a national model of frontline outreach across third sector and statutory services as we deliver the remaining strategic priorities.
We know a well-trained workforce is essential to the effective delivery of frontline services. The housing options hubs are developing a training toolkit made of six modules covering the knowledge and skills involved in delivering housing options services. The first two modules have been tested successfully and signed off by the steering group overseeing the project. Work on the third module is now well advanced. We expect the first three modules to be available in early 2021 with the final three modules completed later the same year.
National data collection/shared case management system
We published the options appraisal for a new national data collection system in May 2019 and set out plans in our annual report for a programme of engagement and development. This work has been on hold due to COVID-19.
A shared case management system will enable confidential and relevant information to be made immediately available to organisations supporting people experiencing homelessness. This will ensure people receive the support, advice and accommodation they need quickly. The new system will be developed in collaboration with frontline organisations, local authorities and people with lived experience of homelessness to ensure it is fit for purpose.
We have heard from third sector and local government partners that the successes of the past months in moving people to a place of safety would not have been possible without joint working and information sharing between organisations. We will therefore restart this work by the end of 2020 with the aim of starting a pilot in 2021.
Temporary accommodation is an important safety net but it should be high quality, short-term and provide the right support to the people who live there. We had already said in our action plan that the length of time some households spend in temporary accommodation, in bed and breakfasts in particular, was unacceptable.
In spite of all efforts, recent homelessness statistics – which cover the pre-pandemic period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 – show we have a significantly increased number of people in temporary accommodation. We must take bold steps to reverse this trend.
“In B&B I only ever got a place for a couple of days. Having to think ahead all the time is exhausting, and so is moving every couple of days. I couldn’t settle.”
To prevent any backward movement, we have fast-tracked plans to extend the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, which currently prevents pregnant women or families with children from being placed in accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hotels for more than a week, to include all homeless households. This means that after 31 January 2021, no-one will stay in unsuitable temporary accommodation without access to basic facilities and support for more than seven days.
Local authorities need to have a range of options for different groups of homeless households. With the extension of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, we have widened the types of accommodation that can be considered suitable for particular people in particular circumstances. We will continue to encourage local authorities to share alternative models that allow homeless households a greater degree of choice and control over their temporary accommodation placement. We will also encourage the diversification of property portfolios in order to provide applicants with a wider range of options for temporary and permanent accommodation.
Section 8 of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 gives Scottish ministers powers to modify the use of local connection rules. The section 8 provisions were commenced on 7 November 2019. This legislation currently allows local authorities to refer a homeless applicant to another local authority in certain circumstances. The intention of the modification is to give people making homelessness applications as much choice as possible, including helping them settle where they choose to live.
In August 2020, we published a consultation inviting views on the statement for exercising the power of Scottish ministers to modify the operation of local connection referrals between local authorities in Scotland. The consultation closes on 23 October 2020 and the statement will be published by 7 May 2021.
The Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2019 was commenced on 7 November 2019, introducing discretion for local authorities in assessing homelessness applications for intentionality.
There was limited consensus in our 2019 consultation about the option of removing intentionality entirely and we will continue to work with partners, lawyers and other stakeholders as we consider next steps. As we have made intentionality discretionary since November 2019, we are using local authority reporting data to understand the impacts of this change to inform next steps. We will start a review in November 2020, 12 months after the legislation commenced, and report by July 2021 as set out in the updated code of guidance.
Code of guidance and code of practice
The Scottish Government worked with partners to publish a factual update of the code of guidance in November 2019. The updated code reflects best working practice and current relevant legislation, and is a vital step in assisting local authorities to deliver the best possible service to households who experience homelessness or are threatened with homelessness. Our plans for a comprehensive review and update of the code have been put on hold due to COVID-19 and we intend to take this forward in 2021. We will also develop a process to make regular updates when legislative and policy changes are introduced.
Temporary accommodation standards
Building on the responses received to the consultation on improving temporary accommodation standards and the revisions made to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, we will set up a working group to develop a legally enforceable standards framework by the end of the year. The group will bring forward concrete proposals in 2021.
Unsuitable Accommodation Order
We will publish guidance later in 2020 on the Unsuitable Accommodation Order and bring forward a further Scottish statutory instrument that will provide clarity on the changes to the Order now that it has been expanded to all homeless households. This will provide detail on the circumstances in which the exemptions created for community hosting, rapid access accommodation and shared tenancies can be applied. It will also set out a clear framework for local authorities to help them plan to end the use of unsuitable accommodation, apart from in emergency situations.
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