Publication - Minutes

Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: November 2021

Date of meeting: 5 Nov 2021

Minutes of the meeting of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, held in November 2021.

Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group minutes: November 2021

1. Welcome and introductions

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for joining the call. She noted that it had been a while since the group last met. The Cabinet Secretary emphasised the importance of the group’s work and that she looked forward to working with members to implement the next phase of the Ending Homelessness Together action plan.

Members of the group then introduced themselves. Both Cllr Parry and the Cabinet Secretary extended their gratitude on behalf of COSLA and the Scottish Government to everyone for all their work on ending homelessness in Scotland, especially during the pandemic.

2. Membership review and task and finish groups

Janine Kellett provided members with a brief overview of the updated membership of the group and proposed changes to the structure. There are four new members and one new Change Team member. She noted that departing members have kindly offered their expertise to work on the task and finish groups.

Janine invited discussion on the proposal of establishing task and finish groups and possible topics for the groups. The task and finish groups would be time limited and offer an opportunity for members to delve deeper into specific challenges facing the homelessness sector. The remit and membership of the groups would be decided by, and report back to, the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG). She suggested that the main topics could include temporary accommodation and the new homelessness prevention legislation. Other topics could include supported accommodation, homeless deaths, realising the right to adequate housing, migrant homelessness and the National Care Service.

Jon Sparkes thought that the principle and idea of short term task groups made up of members of HPSG, or people nominated by members, was important to maintain momentum between meetings. He agreed with the need to be cautious to not duplicate existing work and the importance of linking up with existing groups where appropriate. He suggested an HPSG member could be formally nominated to join an existing group. On the topics, he questioned whether there was a need for a group to look at temporary accommodation due the existing RRTP sub-group. Regarding prevention legislation, he noted that there may be a role for a group to look at culture and practice even while the consultation on the legislation is ongoing. He emphasised the importance of having a monitoring and outcomes framework for the groups.

Alison Watson agreed with the principle of setting up short term groups and the importance of avoiding duplication of work. She supported the two priority topics, temporary accommodation and the prevention duty, proposed by Janine. Shelter Scotland would be delighted to be represented in both.

Aaliya Seyal agreed and raised points regarding equality and affordability in relation to temporary accommodation.

Ruth Robin said the two proposed priority topics felt right and that it would be good to consider the National Care Service and how HPSG can influence its development. She emphasised the importance of mapping what work is already underway and where the gaps are. In particular, she mentioned that it would be positive to link in more closely with the Drugs Death Taskforce.

Maggie Brunjes was supportive of the structure and priority topics set out by Janine. She suggested that the groups adopt a change model detailing how the problems could be solved. Maggie would welcome a focus on supported accommodation as recently published research has set out a new direction of travel for supported accommodation. A focus on the National Care Service would also be welcome given the links between health, housing and homelessness.

John Mills emphasised the need to involve a range of expertise in the groups. He added that temporary accommodation is one of the major elements of RRTPs and a group focusing on why people are not moving on quickly from temporary accommodation that feeds into the RRTP sub-group could be useful. He also thought a focus on supported accommodation would be beneficial. On charges for temporary accommodation, John highlighted the work undertaken by a former SG homelessness policy official, Graham Thomson. John reminded the group of the Housing Options Hubs which have lots of expertise and could feed into this work.

Jo Ozga agreed on involving a range of expertise in the groups. Jo expressed concern regarding SG capacity and resources, and highlighted the importance of cross-directorate working. She mentioned the commitment in the EHT action plan to apply a gendered analysis to all actions so that homelessness services meet the needs of a wide range of women. She emphasised the need for gendered analysis to be embedded in any further pieces of work, especially in relation to temporary accommodation and the prevention duty. 

Janice Stevenson flagged the need to further develop domestic abuse pathways to address the needs of LGBT survivors and male survivors.  

JP stated that the voice of women is not being heard in the homeless community and that there needs to be more appropriate services for women. 

Lorraine McGrath talked about the importance of the links between homelessness, health and the National Care Service. She highlighted the critical need to ensure the health system is responding to those experiencing homelessness. A starting point for a task and finish group could be to identify the areas of work that are already happening, and if and how HPSG should feed into that. This information could then be brought back to the wider group to discuss how to move forward most effectively.

Cllr Parry mentioned that Jo’s comments regarding capacity are also a concern from a local government point of view and that COSLA would want to make sure they have the capacity to fully contribute. She agreed with the points made around health as many local authorities already combine housing with Integrated Joint Boards. She also agreed the importance of gendered analysis and human rights in this process, and linking in with existing work where appropriate, such as the Drugs Deaths Taskforce.

Janine thanked everyone for their responses and outlined the next steps and actions. 

Actions:

  • SG officials to map existing work to identify opportunities and gaps, and report back to the group.
  • SG officials to consider the points on capacity and resourcing of the groups.
  • SG officials to consider the points on human rights and gendered analysis.

3. Group updates

John Mills gave a brief update on the latest Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan (RRTP) sub-group meeting and Housing First. The sub-group is now well established and there is potential for links with the new task and finish groups. They are still working through the annual returns from local authorities and health colleagues will have access to those returns. Housing Options Hubs have continued to meet throughout the pandemic and provide very useful input to the RRTP sub-group who meet on a quarterly basis. The major focus at the moment is on the transformation of temporary accommodation. The key to success is moving to early intervention and prevention which should be the focus as we move into the recovery phase of the pandemic. 

On Housing First, John advised that all local authorities from the Pathfinder have now mainstreamed the programme. Heriot Watt University published an interim evaluation of the programme. Janine shared a link to the report: https://researchportal.hw.ac.uk/en/publications/scotlands-housing-first-pathfinder-evaluation-first-interim-repor-2. There is now regular quarterly monitoring of the Housing First programme. 21 local authorities are implementing Housing First and six have plans to do so.

JP gave an update on behalf of the Change Team. The Change Team bridge the gap between government and the streets so there is no misinformation or disengagement from people on the streets. There are four priorities for the group: People First, At Home, No Wrong Door and Good Vibes. JP emphasised the importance of choice and supporting people into the appropriate home.

Matt Howarth provided information on the Prevention Review Group recommendations. The recommendations published earlier this year will form the basis of the consultation which is to be launched by the end of the year and will run for 14 weeks. They cover two broad themes: duties on wider public bodies and landlords, and changes to the existing homelessness legislation.

He provided an update on the National Care Service Consultation. Lorraine McGrath will submit a response to the consultation on behalf of the HPSG group.

Laura Caven provided an update on COSLA’s views of the National Care Service consultation, their response to which will be published next week. Laura is happy to share a link to the response which covers four key areas: impact on local decision making, impact on people using the service, concerns relating to funding, and the local government workforce.

Finally, Marion Gibbs gave a brief update on the analysis of RRTP activity and spend templates. All local authorities have RRTPs and report to the SG on an annual basis and receive SG feedback on their template. The returns are used to encourage sharing of good practice and examples where others could benefit. A Scotland wide report is currently being developed which outlines the findings from the analysis of the RRTP returns and will be shared with HPSG when finalised.

The Cabinet Secretary opened the discussion to questions. Aaron Hill raised the challenges facing housing associations in relation to permanent accommodation where there are issues with supply chains, materials and energy suppliers. He also mentioned that the absence of housing in the National Care Service consultation response was disappointing.

Alison raised the need for further work to be carried out on data collection, monitoring and evaluation to ensure that HPSG has the information required to understand the issues and track the progress of the Ending Homelessness Together action plan. She felt that there is useful data from the Housing First programme but it is quite limited and more information on the pre-tenancy work would be useful.

4. Ending Homelessness Together action plan annual report

Janine provided members with a summary of the recent annual report to Parliament. She highlighted the progress made towards our goal of ending homelessness in Scotland. A recent report from Crisis shows rates of the worst forms of homelessness are significantly lower in Scotland than in England. There are, however, still many areas for development. The number of people in temporary accommodation remains too high and early intervention is key to stop people reaching crisis point.

Janine asked if it would be helpful to have more formal methods of measuring and evaluating progress to understand if our efforts are working. She invited members to consider the following questions:

  • Are there better ways to monitor the progress Scotland is making towards ending homelessness?
  • How do we know if our policies and interventions are delivering positive changes for people?
  • How do we identify areas where really good work is being done?
  • Conversely, how do we identify areas where progress is slower or stalling?
  • How can we better understand what is working well and what can be improved?
  • Do we need more/different indicators?
  • Should this be the focus of a task and finish group or is it a strategic question for HPSG?

Jon felt that while the report describes whether tasks have been completed, it does not outline where we are in relation to ending homelessness. There are leading academic institutions in Scotland as well as a lot of expertise within the organisations represented in the group. We need to know whether homelessness is becoming rarer, briefer and less recurrent. Jon shared a link to the Homelessness Monitor and explained that it does provide a three yearly longitudinal state of the nation on progress towards ending homelessness but there is a need to share progress more frequently than the Monitor: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/homelessness-monitor/scotland/the-homelessness-monitor-scotland-2021/.

JP highlighted that there is not a shortage of quantitative information, but that more qualitative information is required from people who are experiencing homelessness.

Alison agreed with Jon and JP. The current reporting format does not allow the reporting of outcomes and tracking of progress year on year. A suite of metrics to track progress is needed.

Ruth questioned whether this group has the analytical capacity to analyse data appropriately, and whether data regarding homelessness could be collected as part of the national care dataset.

Jo said that issues relating to gender sensitive data have continuously been raised. Jo is keen that a priority for the group moving forward is to know what impact the policies are having on women. The report on improving housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse makes a number of recommendations on data collection. Jo shared the following link: https://www.engender.org.uk/content/publications/EgenderSubmission-GatheringandusingdatatoadvancewomensequalityandrightsinScotland-Feb2020-1.pdf.

Aaliya raised the need for information on when there is a lack of compliance with legislation and the ability to use that data to inform service design.

JP commented that the way in which data is collected affects the culture on the street and people may answer questions in a way that is not completely reflective of their situation due to a lack of trust and faith in the system.

Maggie emphasised the need for an outcomes framework for the national action plan to end homelessness. The question is how to gather the data to demonstrate that progress is being made.

Cllr Parry raised a concern regarding reporting duties for local authorities. She chairs the Equally Safe board and highlighted the importance of gendered analysis for that work. 

Actions:

  • Janine to discuss how data and information could best be collected to track progress on the Ending Homelessness Together action plan with leading academics, and report back to the group.

5. The Unsuitable Accommodation Order and Local Connection

Karen Grieve gave members an update on the Unsuitable Accommodation Order (UAO). Temporary exceptions to the Order were put in place in response to the pandemic until the 30 September 2021. Since the 1 October 2021 local authorities will be in breach of the Order if any homeless household stays in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days.

Policy and statistics officials have been working with local authorities to address inconsistencies in the way breaches of the Order have been recorded. Around a third of local authorities have identified that they will have challenges in complying with the order due to a range of issues. Local authorities with the most significant challenges have agreed to produce a short action plan to be updated regularly. Karen said that discussions with the Scottish Housing Regulator have taken place regarding their response to local authorities who are unable to comply with the UAO after 1 October. The Regulator will consider the action plans and take a holistic view of each situation.

Karen noted that despite the challenges, there is positive progress being made by every local authority in relation to the UAO.

Karen then moved on to talk about local connection. There was a commitment to suspend local connection referrals so that people could have choice and control on where they want to live. The SSI was due to be laid earlier this year but delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions. The former Housing Minister committed to laying this as early as possible in the next session of Parliament. During the course of the summer, SG officials have undertaken a lot of engagement with local authorities who had raised concerns. There are a range of issues to be addressed, such as specific issues for island authorities and MAPPA restrictions. In light of this, it is likely that the SSI will be laid in 2022.

Jon stated that it is important to understand the difficulties in bringing forward the local connection change. However, HPSG should have a strong opinion that these changes need to happen at the earliest possible opportunity.

Alison echoed Jon’s sentiments, stating that progress has been made because of the rights based approach taken in Scotland to homelessness. We need to look at the investment required to improve temporary accommodation and increase the supply of permanent accommodation.

JP thanked Shelter Scotland for all their work. He stated he was supportive of the creation of the task and finish groups proposed earlier in the meeting and thanked the group for the privilege to represent the views of people with lived experience.

John mentioned that ALACHO is currently carrying out a RAG survey in terms of homeless presentations, temporary accommodation and breaches of the UAO. He mentioned that there needs to be careful consideration of the MAPPA issue in relation to local connection.

Jo agreed with John on the MAPPA issue and the need to protect the rights of victims of abuse. 

Cllr Parry mentioned labour workforce implications and housing building challenges and highlighted the importance of partnership working to ensure the right outcomes for people.

The Cabinet Secretary reassured the group that both issues are important to the Scottish Government and that she wanted to move forward on them at pace.

6. AOB and close

As this was Jon Sparkes’ last HPSG meeting, the Cabinet Secretary thanked him for all the help and guidance he has provided on ending homelessness. His leadership, passion and commitment has been a great asset as we have refined our homelessness strategy in Scotland.

Cllr Parry also thanked Jon for all of his work and wished him well in his new role. Cllr Parry then raised one additional point about people with no recourse to public funds. There is ongoing work between local government and the Scottish Government on this issue, including guidance which will be shared with the group when possible.

The Cabinet Secretary thanked everyone for their attendance and that officials would notify members of the next meeting date.

Actions:

  • SG officials to slim down the agenda for the next meeting to enable topics to be covered in more depth.
  • SG officials to issue a meeting request for the next meeting.

Attendees and apologies

Shona Robison MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government; Chair)

Cllr Kelly Parry, COSLA (Community Wellbeing Spokesperson; Co-Chair)

Laura Caven, COSLA

Anil Gupta, COSLA

Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland

John Mills, ALACHO

Jon Sparkes, Crisis

Janice Stevenson, LGBT Youth

Aaron Hill, SFHA

Lorraine McGrath, Simon Community/Streetwork

Maggie Brunjes, Homeless Network Scotland

Aaliya Seyal, Legal Services Agency

Ruth Robin, Healthcare Improvement Scotland

Jo Ozga, Scottish Woman’s Aid

JP, Change Team

Janine Kellett, Scottish Government

Karen Grieve, Scottish Government

Matt Howarth, Scottish Government

Marion Gibbs, Scottish Government

Observers:

Sarah Vickers, Scottish Government

Rachael McQueen, Scottish Government

Katy Burns, Scottish Government

Apologies:

Angela Keith, SOLACE

Kate Polson, Rock Trust

Shea Moran, Aff the Streets

Sally Thomas, SFHA

Susanne Millar, Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership