Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group minutes: June 2020

Minutes of the June 2020 meeting of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.

Attendees and apologies


  • Jon Sparkes (CEO, Crisis)


  • Russell Barr (Church of Scotland)
  • Maggie Brunjes (HNS) Mike Dailly (Govan Law Centre)
  • David Duke (Street Soccer)
  • Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick (Heriot Watt University)
  • Josh Littlejohn (Social Bite)
  • Lorraine McGrath (Simon Community Scotland),
  • John Mills (Fife Council & ALACHO)
  • Shona Stephen (Queens Cross Housing Association)
  • Alison Watson (Shelter Scotland)

In attendance:

  • Catriona MacKean (Deputy Director, SG Better Homes Division)
  • Janine Kellett (SG Head of Homelessness Unit)
  • Marion Gibbs (Team Leader, SG Homelessness Team)
  • Ruth Whatling (Team Leader, SG Homelessness Team)
  • Julie Stuart (SG Homelessness Team)
  • Ashleigh Simpson (Crisis)


  • Susanne Millar (Glasgow City Council)

Items and actions

1. Welcome and the task

Jon welcomed members to the rapidly reconvened Action Group and thanked everyone for their commitment. He outlined that Mr Stewart had asked HARSAG to review the responses to the original questions HARSAG was asked in the light of the coronavirus crisis and make any changes to those recommendations; and to review the Scottish Government’s emerging recovery plan for moving out of the current situation in a way that makes further progress towards the goal of ending homelessness.

A paper had been circulated to members with the following four questions:

  • What needs to be already in place to support people in this emergency situation?
  • What needs to be done quickly to ensure that when people move off from emergency accommodation, they are not forced back to rough sleeping?
  • How can we accelerate the pace of work to prevent homelessness? We know that the very best way to prevent rough sleeping is to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place?
  • What else needs to change in the plan to end homelessness in Scotland to recognise the changing circumstances and a more ambitious view of what is now possible?                                      

2. Hopes, fears for HARSAG2

Jon welcomed views on members hopes and fears for this process. In summary members agreed it will be important to capitalise on the positive collaborative efforts and the swift and effective response to the crisis. There are now opportunities to be bolder in our approach to tackling homelessness; build on our learning over the last few months; and not replicate the past. Prevention is key, particularly around preventing evictions into homelessness. Actively involving people with lived experience in this work is also very important.

Members stated that fears included an increase in homelessness presentations once the pandemic was over and that there are not yet enough appropriate properties to respond adequately. Also there are things out with our control, such as immigration regulations, that could result in a new population sleeping rough.

The economic impact of the pandemic will affect people financially and having a communications strategy and a national communications campaign were suggested to increase awareness of what help is available. There was also uncertainty about a second or third wave of the virus and that the exceptional financial support available during the last few months, through the £350m communities funding package, cannot be available indefinitely.

3. Current situation

Catriona recognised the strength of the original HARSAG recommendations, which resulted in the joint SG-COSLA Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan and confirmed that the Action Plan remains the bedrock of our activity that we need to build on for recovery.  She also recognised the scale of the challenge.

Across housing services, resilience groups have been created since the start of the pandemic and meet regularly to collaborate and respond to the issues.  In respect of the legislative framework, protection from evictions is in place until end September and the power exists to extend further than that. There is active consideration of what we can do to prevent this cliff edge and financial support is a big part of that - preventing arrears in the first place, enabling people to work with their landlords to deal proactively with any arrears by getting payment agreements in place etc.

Political will is high. There is an opportunity to go further in tackling homelessness and look at ‘social renewal’ more broadly.  Level of ambition in local government is also high and will be every bit as critical.

Members then discussed issues relating to extending the suspension of evictions until March to avoid financial issues in October and ensuring that the right messages were put out around no evictions. The subject of housing supply was raised, including allocations, voids, increasing social lets through acquisition/buy backs and the value of flipping temporary furnished flats (TFF). There was a mixed response to the question about flipping TFF, as it can be a good solution but can present challenges, for example in choice of location for a settled home. The process was reported as being slow in some areas but it was noted it works well in other areas and is often included in local authorities’ existing rapid rehousing transition plans.

In the context of the current pandemic, social landlords have been focusing on temporary rather than general lets and turnover has been a fraction of the usual level of activity. The restart of lettings must be a priority to restart supply. At the same time as work being carried out to turn around properties faster, a suggestion was made to focus on pre-allocation of tenancies to people in emergency temporary accommodation which would give them a sense of certainty. Digital inclusion is important as if people have access to digital support they will be much better placed to take up pre-allocation.

4. Equality Impact and broader consultation

Jon said that a big change since the last HARSAG was the establishment of the Change Team and the involvement of people with lived experience.  However, HARSAG needs to consult with other groups in a realistic and meaningful way which is difficult given the time constraints. Maggie provided background to the Change Team and confirmed that they had met three times since the pandemic began so we can build on the work they have already done. It was agreed that there needs to be engagement with people that have been helped in the hotel accommodation during the pandemic. It was suggested that the Change Team or others might facilitate that. It was also stated that the engagement with grass roots organisations and other equalities groups should be included.

Catriona referenced the equalities considerations scoped out in advance of this first meeting and stated the importance of understanding the impact of this work on equality groups. This means looking through a gendered lens to understand women’s experiences as well as considering the impact of disability, race and other protected characteristics. The Action Plan was challenged in this aspect and there is more to be done on this. Ministers are also clear that equality considerations must be part of the discussion. Active positive engagement from the start, such as a series of roundtables with equalities experts or groups will be important. Marginalised groups should also be considered  

Following debate and discussion of key equalities issues, members agreed to be involved both in lived-experience engagement and engagement with those with expertise across different equalities groups. They agreed that it needs to be done quickly with the same questions being asked that HARSAG are being asked. A consultation plan will be developed to support this engagement work.

Involving the wider housing sector was also highlighted and it was recognised that members had access to a large network, such as the resilience groups, housing options hubs, ALACHO members, housing support networks and third sector interface. Working across policy areas, such as health and justice has improved but there are still more opportunities, especially given the interest of ministers in the Hard Edges report of 2019.

5. What needs to be done

Jon highlighted the Everyone Home report produced in May by a collective of 19 third sector homelessness organisations across Scotland.  Maggie provided a brief overview of the Collective and their work. It was clarified that Shelter Scotland’s report was additional to and aligned with the Everyone Home report and emphasised Shelter’s view of required short, medium and longer term actions.

Jon stated that HARSAG would be seeking to add value to the Everyone Home report. A document setting out key considerations drawing from Everyone Home was circulated to the Group to consider and challenge, if necessary, which would be the starting point for engagement with other groups.

There was a discussion on a range of housing related matters including: maximising available housing options; increasing allocations to homeless households; new builds; buy backs’ and mortgage to rent. 

The discussion continued around what role the Scottish National Investment Bank could have and if there is appetite for social investors to support new supply or support models if we have the right models and business plans. Members also talked about Housing First, rapid rehousing, digital inclusion, using university accommodation and redirecting investment into more suitably structured accommodation.

It was emphasised that the group use evidence throughout this process and that it was important to not only capture the intelligence around the sector’s response to COVID-19 but also to draw out existing evidence, such as housing allocations and housing markets.


  • Members to comment on starting point document ahead of sharing with other for input and development through consultation
  • SG to provide a consultation plan and support engagement between HARSAG members and key groups across equalities, housing, health and justice.
  • Maggie to continue to liaise with the Change Team to get input from people with lived experience of homelessness and front line workers
  • John Mills to work with ALACHO and others to provide a paper which sets out a clear statement of aspiration and how it can be achieved  with input from Shona Stephen from a Housing Association perspective.
  • SG to explore social investment opportunities.
  • SG to collate evidence and data.
  • Lorraine to circulate impacts of the Simon Community Scotland work to improve access to technology.
  • Jon and Ashleigh to draft and publish blog of the meeting and direction of travel

6. Summary, next steps and close

Jon ended the meeting with a summary of the discussion and agreement that members would progress actions around consultation with people with lived experience, provide input to the circulated document and Crisis will issue a blog about the meeting.

The second meeting of the reconvened group is on 18 June 2020.

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