Housing Options guidance

joint guidance from Scottish Government and COSLA setting out the principles on which any effective Housing Options service should be based and the outcomes it should achieve.

1.0 Introduction

This Guidance has been published by the Scottish Government and COSLA in order to support the development of Housing Options approaches in Scotland's local authorities.

1.1 What is Housing Options?

1. Statutorily, Housing Options is regarded as providing advice under section 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. This states that:

(1) every local authority must secure that advice and information about:

(a) homelessness and the prevention of homelessness, and
(b) any services which may assist a homeless person or assist in the prevention of homelessness, is available free of charge to any person in the authority's area.

2. The history of Housing Options has been an evolving story. Some Scottish local authorities have been early adopters leading the way. Housing Options is not an entirely new service. It is a successor to homelessness prevention and housing advice services within local authorities. The Options approach may have been introduced by local authorities over a number of years in an informal manner by staff learning of approaches being successfully adopted in other authorities and then trying them out in their own casework. Options has been adopted throughout Scotland's local authorities on an evolving basis rather than with a 'big bang'.

3. Housing advice and Housing Options are different in at least two key aspects:

  • the delivery of Housing Options is person-centred, i.e. it starts with, and is uniquely tailored to, the individual customer;
  • in particular, Housing Options is a holistic service. Facilitating a sustainable housing solution may require support other than the provision of decent housing. This may include focussing on employment support, support with educational needs, or addressing physical and mental health needs.

4. Housing Options services are, by their nature, diverse, but will commonly include the following:

  • housing advice;
  • health advice;
  • advice on aids and adaptations;
  • financial inclusion;
  • budget management support; and
  • employability support

Examples of Housing Options services are discussed at section 3.8.

1.2 Who is this Guidance for?

1. Effective Housing Options services need to be embraced by the whole local authority, in order to successfully prevent homelessness and address broader housing needs. Staff working at the frontline, meeting customers and giving housing advice on a daily basis, will need a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of Housing Options approaches. Local authority senior managers will need to have an awareness of Housing Options and their role in meeting housing need to enable them to support frontline teams, to provide staff training and other necessary resources, to monitor service outcomes and to develop and maintain relationships with essential partner organisations. Regular reports should be made to the appropriate local authority committee, or other relevant committee, on the performance and outcomes of Housing Options and its role in addressing housing need.

2. This Guidance has been developed in order to support the development and embedding of Housing Options at all levels of local authorities. An effective Housing Options approach will be characterised by a 'golden thread' where there exists an understanding of Housing Options policy and practice and a consistency of approach from the frontline to the leadership of the local authority.

3. Housing Options might also be delivered by housing associations or voluntary sector organisations. Many housing associations are already known to be adopting this approach to their housing advice work. Although written specifically for Scottish local authorities, other organisations will find much of interest in this Guidance to support the development and implementation of these approaches within their own organisations and to better understand the practice as delivered by local authorities.

4. Most importantly of all, it is essential that the customer knows what a Housing Options approach entails, and what s/he can expect as a result of engaging with a Housing Options service. Although written specifically for the staff, managers and elected members of local authorities, this Guidance should be helpful in supporting the development of consumer guidance on Housing Options by local authorities and other agencies with an interest in housing advice.

1.3 The Purpose of the Guidance

1. Housing circumstances vary radically across Scotland, in terms of the characteristics of demand and housing markets. It would not be desirable to have a single unitary Housing Options service that could be applied universally throughout Scotland. Housing Options services require to reflect local circumstances.

2. This Guidance therefore is not prescriptive as to the detail of Housing Options services and how they should be delivered. These details need to be decided locally in response to local circumstances.

3. This Guidance seeks to establish the principles on which any effective Housing Options service should be based and the outcomes that any Options service should be seeking to achieve. It explains how Options should relate to other services, for example, homelessness and housing support and the range of advice that might be expected to be offered. It is intended to support the effective management of Housing Options delivery within local authorities.

4. A local authority should seek to establish that in its management and delivery of Housing Options, it is meeting and incorporating these principles. The detail of how services are delivered locally should be built on these principles and compliance measured through a self assessment audit framework.

5. The Scottish Government has expressed its intention that this Guidance will be reviewed annually.

1.4 Structure of the Guidance

1. The Guidance has three main sections: Strategic; Operational; and Performance Management.

2. The Strategic section is designed for elected members and senior managers to develop a good understanding of where Housing Options sits in relation to other local authority services. It identifies the support and leadership required from councillors and senior managers in order to ensure that Options services are effectively delivered and it establishes the core principles on which Options should be based.

3. The Operational section is aimed at the staff and managers of frontline delivery teams. It explores the specifics of Options service delivery, the broad characteristics of potential client groups, the range of options that should be available to clients, practical links with other services and the training that frontline staff will need in order to be able to deliver a comprehensive Options service.

4. Finally, there is a brief section on performance management, exploring how the outcomes of Options services should be measured, how continuous improvement should be embedded into monitoring and reporting activities and how this might be achieved in practice.

5. Whilst all local authority staff and elected members would benefit from a holistic understanding of the delivery of Housing Options throughout their organisation and would gain from absorbing all sections of this Guidance, it is recognised that there are time pressures in the real world. Therefore, each section has been designed to be used independently of the rest of the document, useful in its own right to the specific group of local authority members and/or staff for which it has been primarily been written.

6. At the end of each section is a checklist. These checklists are designed for the team manager or Options services delivery team members to work through as a self assessment exercise. They are as much to prompt consideration of an aspect of Housing Options service management and/or delivery as they are to generate 'hard' numeric answers. The process of self assessment will identify strengths and weaknesses in the planning, management or delivery of services. It will identify areas where there is a need for service improvement planning including the delivery of further staff training.

Sitting alongside this guidance will be a detailed Training Toolkit which will cover everything staff need to know in undertaking a Housing Options role. There are references at various points throughout this Guidance to modules of the Training Toolkit where further information can be found. Look for this symbol.


Back to top