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. Whilst Options must be supported by the whole organisation, the service is delivered by frontline teams. This section is designed to support delivery of Housing Options in practice on a day-to-day basis.
2. In this section, there is guidance on:
- relevant training to support frontline Options delivery;
- the practice interfaces between Housing Options and duties of homelessness and housing support assessment;
- ensuring that truly comprehensive Options services are being delivered to maximise the chances of delivering sustainable housing outcomes;
- ensuring that the needs of all client groups are being met;
- providing advice across all tenures;
- the development of mandates and pro-formas that support high-quality services.
3. Teams and managers with responsibility for the provision of Housing Options advice should ensure that they have assessed their performance under these broad headings and that they are providing services of a high standard in all aspects.
3.2 The Training Toolkit
1. A well-trained workforce is essential to the effective delivery of Housing Options services. Led by the West of Scotland Housing Options Hub, the Hubs have developed a Training Toolkit which addresses the core areas of training need arising from the delivery of a Housing Options approach.
2. The Training Toolkit provides a range of training to address the needs of elected members through to frontline staff. The Toolkit is designed and structured to be used not only for local authority staff but to address the development needs of other stakeholders with an interest in Housing Options. The toolkit has six modules which demonstrate the breadth of knowledge and skills involved in delivering Options services.
Module 1 - Introduction to Housing Options
Objective 1: The Principles and Philosophy of Housing Options;
Objective 2: Strategic Framework for Housing Options;
Objective 3: Legal Framework for Housing Options;
Objective 4: Diagnostic Needs Assessment;
Objective 5: Assessing and Managing Risk;
Objective 6: Customer Empowerment and Delivering Person Centred Responses.
Module 2 - Accessing Accommodation
Objective 1: Homelessness Legislation and Rights;
Objective 2: Housing Access: Housing System Operation and Tenure Entry;
Objective 3: Housing Options: Rights and Responsibilities for Housing Tenures;
Objective 4: Promoting Informed Decision Making and Customer Choice.
Module 3 - Maintaining Existing Accommodation
Objective 1: Tenancy Sustainment;
Objective 2: Rights and Responsibilities for Each Tenure;
Objective 3: Mediation;
Objective 4: Promoting Independent Living;
Objective 5: Aids and Adaptations;
Objective 6: Repairs;
Objective 7: Antisocial Behaviour.
Module 4 - Health and Wellbeing
Objective 1: Children and Families;
Objective 2: Adult Protection;
Objective 3: Mental Health;
Objective 4: Addiction;
Objective 5: Physical Wellbeing;
Objective 6: General Health and Access to Services.
Module 5 - Income and Affordability
Objective 1: Budgeting and Financial Management;
Objective 2: Assessing Housing Affordability;
Objective 3: Managing Arrears;
Objective 4: Welfare Benefits and Income Maximisation.
Module 6 - Employment and Training
Objective 1: Strategic Skills Pipeline;
Objective 2: Assessing Readiness for Work;
Objective 3: Employability;
Objective 4: Strategic Framework for Enhanced Housing Options.
3. There are many ways of approaching the development of staff and this framework is not prescriptive with regards to the approach taken. But in considering any staff development programme in relation to Housing Options, it will be essential that councils consider the structure and content of this framework, given it is supported by the five regional hubs and the wealth of experience and knowledge that contributed to its development. It is hoped that training suppliers will be shortlisted by summer 2016.
4. At the present time, the training toolkit consists of the comprehensive programme shown above, identifying the training needs required to be covered in order to deliver a Housing Options service competently and a suite of resources to support delivery of the training. This programme is currently not accredited.
5. Some employers and some learners are keen to achieve accreditation as part of their learning and development activities. The Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers offer the opportunity for accredited learning relevant to Housing Options. Achieving these standards whilst covering a training programme such as that detailed in the Housing Options Training Toolkit may be an attractive option. This will provide clear evidence of learning and achievement to consumers and regulators amongst others
3.3 The Interface in Practice between Homelessness Legislation and Housing Options
Knowing when making an application of homelessness is the right course of action is covered in the Training Toolkit Module 2(4), Promoting Informed Decision Making and Customer Choice.
1. Housing, particularly social rented housing, is a scarce resource. Options is about adopting a creative and flexible approach to meeting a household's housing needs by considering the broadest range of practical solutions. This approach should ensure sustainable housing solutions whilst ensuring that public resources are used as effectively and efficiently as possible, but in a way that does not detract from an applicant's statutory rights or a local authority's statutory duties.
2. When someone approaches the local authority for accommodation, or for assistance in obtaining accommodation, and if the Local Authority has reason to believe an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days, then the Local Authority has a statutory duty to investigate. It should be noted that the local authority does not need the applicant's consent to make these enquiries as this is a statutory duty, however they may require their cooperation and consent to undertake full and thorough investigations. This duty to assess may be triggered following an initial assessment with the Homelessness Team, The Housing Options Team or equivalent, however regardless as to how the duty is triggered the local authority should:-
- Record the application on the HL1 system;
- Undertake the homelessness assessment / investigation;
- Progress the homelessness application until the duty is discharged or the individual / household withdraws the application; and
- Where appropriate, progress housing options.
3. Whilst applications of homelessness are governed by statutory rights and duties, homelessness applications can be processed alongside the application of Housing Options approaches (see paragraph 52 of the Prevention of Homelessness Guidance, 2009). Whilst enquiries are being conducted in regards to an individual's homelessness status, or whilst a homeless applicant is being rehoused, the full range of housing options, delivered in a person-centred manner appropriate to the applicant's circumstances, can be explored in the normal way, with the optimal outcome for an applicant in mind. Similarly if an application of homelessness is made during the course of exploring housing options with a customer, the Options process can continue whilst the homelessness application is processed in the normal way.
4. In any event, it is vital that, as part of the discussion of housing options, the customer is clear whether the local authority is making enquiries into the individuals homelessness status. The advisor must always ensure that the customer is clear as to their status as a homeless applicant, particularly if statutory homelessness rights have been discussed.
5. Where a person applies to a local authority for accommodation or for assistance in obtaining accommodation and the local authority has reason to believe that a customer may be homeless, the local authority is statutorily bound to 'make such inquiries as are necessary to satisfy themselves as to whether…[the applicant]…is homeless or threatened with homelessness' (Housing [Scotland] Act 1987). The customer may of course withdraw at any point turn down whatever assistance is offered as a result of them being determined to be statutorily homeless. The customer may perceive that they can achieve a housing solution more suited to their needs by pursuing a housing option other than that offered through the homelessness route. In such circumstances, the local authority should continue to work with the customer to endeavour to secure a sustainable housing option. To ensure transparency, it is imperative that a thorough audit trail is maintained, evidencing the advice that has been given and the choices made by the customer. Record-keeping of a robust standard is extremely useful in reassuring managers and auditors that services are being delivered to the required standards in accordance with the legislation.
6. IT systems should be able to record the entire Housing Options journey, demonstrating transparency, from approach through to final outcome, including the interface with homelessness. However, IT must not be a barrier to Housing Options provision. The starting point for the design and delivery of Housing Options is the customer and their needs, not the systems and processes currently available within the housing organisation.
7. The Scottish Government's monitoring of homelessness and Housing Options activity, through HL1 and PREVENT1 returns respectively, is not mutually exclusive. Without exception, if section 28(1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 applies, i.e., that there is reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, an HL1 return must be completed. If an individual wishes to not to proceed with a homelessness application:
- an HL1 should still be completed and the assessment phase should record that the applicant withdrew the application prior to the assessment being carried out;
- if the applicant then decides to proceed with a Housing Options approach, a PREVENT1 return should then be opened for that household.
8. The interface between staff with responsibilities for homelessness and Housing Options must be considered and managed carefully in order that customers' homelessness rights are maintained, and incidences of homelessness or threatened homelessness are being appropriately responded to, whilst effective Options services are being delivered.
9. Section 4.0 of this Guidance includes advice on appropriate performance frameworks for Options. While reductions in the numbers of homelessness applications may indicate the successful implementation of Housing Options, this is not an appropriate target for the measurement of Housing Options. A homelessness application should not be considered a failure of Housing Options, as this may be the most appropriate solution to a customer's housing need at that time. Homelessness applications may conceivably increase as a result of Housing Options, as more people become aware of their rights under the homelessness legislation. The focus of performance reporting of Housing Options should relate to the sustainment of solutions achieved, rather than whether that solution was achieved through a homelessness route or not.
3.4 The Options/Homelessness Flowchart
1. The flowchart, overleaf, based on work by Homeless Action Scotland, demonstrates the delivery of Housing Options services, relative to the delivery of homelessness services.
2. The flowchart indicates that a homelessness application may be made at any time. This would be triggered if the local authority had reason to believe that the customer was homeless or threatened with homelessness.
3.5 High Customer Service Standards
1. Housing Options should be delivered to the same high standards of customer service as any other service delivered by the local authority. Clear commitments should be made as to the standards of service that customers can expect and what minimum service outcomes they can expect.
2. Customers should be seen as quickly as possible and within reasonable timescales, which may in part be determined by the degree of urgency of the individual customer's housing need. Processes should be streamlined so that customers are not required to make multiple visits in order to access Options advice. Undue delays may lead to customers seeking out their own less sustainable housing solutions, contact being lost and ultimately repeat applications.
3. There should be clear equalities statements, indicating that services are person-centred and are responsive to the individual needs of customers.
4. Housing Options advice should be offered in a balanced manner. The decision is for the customer to make having been provided with comprehensive advice as to the practical options by the Housing Options adviser and provided with support to make the decision. The customer must not be led or unduly influenced by the adviser to favour one viable housing option over another.
5. Advice must also be provided in a manner such that the customer is able to fully appreciate the implications of the options discussed. This requires particular skill on the part of the Housing Options adviser, to use language thoughtfully and appropriately, both for exploring customers' circumstances and for exploring viable housing options. It may require verbal advice to be supported with written literature. It may require time to be spent by the adviser appropriately checking the customer's understanding. It would require consideration of the use of language.
6. Minimum standards should be agreed and set to establish:
- the timescales within which a customer should expect to attend a Housing Options interview following initial contact;
- what level of service they can expect during and following an interview, for example, a written summary of the outcomes;
- how promptly referrals to other agencies will be made, when appropriate;
- what customer permissions are required, to share information, for example, and how these are secured and evidenced, etc.
7. Customers should know how they can make a complaint should they be dissatisfied with any aspect of the Options service or its outcomes, and how their complaint will be dealt with.
8. These standards should be published and made accessible to the Housing Options customer, by being included in literature, on reception noticeboards, being given to customers as part of the literature accompanying the interview, etc.
9. Performance against these standards should be monitored and reported to managers and elected members. There should be mechanisms to feed the outcomes of performance monitoring into continuous improvement activity.
3.6 Typical Housing Options Client Groups
1. Anybody with a perceived housing need, regardless of their circumstances, may benefit from a Housing Options appraisal. A customer engaging with Housing Options may not identify with any specific 'need group' on grounds of age or disability or any other circumstance.
2. A number of key customer groups in terms of Housing Options approaches can be identified. Services should ensure that appropriate plans, liaison and referral arrangements are in place to address particular needs. These groups could include:
- people who have experienced family or relationship breakdown;
- young people;
- looked after young people;
- people leaving the armed forces;
- people being discharged from hospital;
- liberated prisoners;
- people fleeing abuse or violence;
- people with addictions issues;
- people with financial difficulties;
- people with mental health issues,
In many instances, customers will display more than one of the above need characteristics, and as such, might be considered as customers with complex needs.
3. In general terms, Options might support the customer to maintain their current home, where that is an appropriate option, or Options would support the customer into a new home, as a result of a formal homelessness application where relevant and/or allocation from the housing list, or by accessing a private sector tenancy or owner-occupied home.
4. A Housing Options assessment should include a person-centred assessment of housing support needs. Where it is identified that a customer has an underlying support need, services should be made available determined by the level of presenting need. (This is not the statutory housing support duty, which only relates to certain homeless households.)
5. Threatened homelessness should be prevented where possible. Housing Options advice linked to early intervention should be available to reduce the risk of homelessness for key groups including young people leaving local authority care, people discharged from hospital, people leaving the armed forces and liberated prisoners. In addition to good quality Housing Options advice for such groups, inter-agency protocols and processes should be in place to maximise the opportunity for early intervention and prevention of homelessness.
- Maintaining Customers in their Current Home
6. A Housing Options approach may be of particular use to people seeking to continue living in their current home, rather than seeking rehousing. This option must only be adopted if there is total confidence that the customer is at no risk in remaining in the current home, but, for example, for young people experiencing relationship difficulties with family members, it is possible that mediation support could help to maintain relationships within the home such that the young person is able to remain there. The provision of support, in addition to or as an alternative to skilled mediation, to the young person and/or family members, may also help to maintain the family unit in their present home. Supporting a young person to remain in the family home is in many instances preferable to homelessness. However, alternative housing options for the future should be planned for and pursued. By ensuring a young person retains their social and support networks whilst pursuing future housing, it is more likely that these relationships will help support the young person within their own tenancy, maximising tenancy sustainment.
7. People of all ages who experience family breakdown may be able to be maintained in the family home through the opportunity to access mediation services. Referrals to relationship support services may be helpful in certain instances if the approach to the Housing Options service has been made at an early enough stage in the relationship breakdown. Again, relationship mediation must only be undertaken if there is full confidence following risk assessment that the individual is not at risk in the home environment.
8. Mediation is a skill that should be undertaken only if the staff member has been appropriately trained. The staff member should also be aware when it is appropriate to offer a referral to dedicated professional mediation support, such as the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution.
Mediation skills and knowing when mediation is an appropriate response, and when it is not, are covered in the Training Toolkit Module 3(3), Mediation.
9. Customers experiencing domestic abuse may in certain circumstances be maintained in their own home through the use of enhanced security measures and additional support. Whilst the safety of victims is paramount, maintaining them in their own home rather than relocation maintains existing local support networks, school attendance, and so on, and therefore can have net benefit. Again, this approach must only be adopted after a thorough risk assessment and where this is the option selected by the customer. (By definition, a person who is unable to occupy their home through fear of violence or threat of violence is statutorily homeless and a homeless application must be completed and a HL1 return made.)
10. In all circumstances in which the Housing Options adviser is discussing courses of action that include the customer remaining in their current home, the importance of ensuring that this does not place the customer at any risk cannot be overstressed. In such circumstances, it may well be appropriate for a referral to be made to a specialist support agency, particularly in circumstances involving children and young people.
The importance of fully assessing risk is covered in the Training Toolkit Module 1(5), Assessing and Managing Risk.
Issues of domestic abuse and how they should be addressed are covered in Module 4(5), Physical Wellbeing.
11. The above are only a few examples where remaining at home may be the preferred option, where the customer may have a more positive housing outcome than if the first response had been to take a rehousing approach to their application. These applications may benefit from a holistic Options approach being adopted.
- Meeting the Needs of Customers with High Support Needs
12. Many customers have specific circumstances that require specialist knowledge in order to fully provide advice as to their housing rights. People with addiction and mental health issues and refugees would be two very different examples of need groups whose support may require highly specialised responses. Staff delivering Options need to have a well-developed awareness of issues related to more complex need groups and how and where to access support. They would require knowledge of support and resources including those within the local authority and how to access these and appropriately make referrals.
13. The planning and delivery of integrated health and social care services could have a positive impact on the housing outcomes of certain need groups such as people being discharged from hospital, people with addictions issues and people with mental health issues.
14. Regardless of the formal approach taken locally to integration, Housing Options practitioners should ensure that they are talking to health and social care colleagues and that relevant services are joined-up and coordinated, for example:
- supporting people leaving hospital with appropriate aids and adaptations and aftercare; or
- responding to a homeless applicant's mental health or addiction needs with appropriate professional support, could make the difference between an individual maintaining a home or them being back in hospital.
In order to be as effective as possible, Housing Options services must be delivered in close association with health and social care services.
15. For certain needs groups, highly specific tailored approaches have proven effective in securing appropriate rehousing and maintaining that home for the long term.
16. Many local authorities have developed working relationships with prisons in order to reduce the occurrence of homelessness on liberation. There are various ways that Options advice can have a positive impact, including:
- tenancy sustainment, maximising options to secure a tenancy whilst a tenant is incarcerated. It may make more sense financially and in terms of disruption to the offender and the landlord for the home to be maintained in order to facilitate their release and rehabilitation into society;
- where the tenancy cannot be maintained, making arrangements for securing furniture for future use and processing a housing application in preparation for discharge;
- early identification of prisoner needs and aspirations to begin the resettlement process prior to discharge;
- where options cannot be secured prior to liberation, accepting homelessness and other housing applications as early as possible whilst the prisoner is still in custody, and having accommodation arranged to minimise anxiety and disruption for the client, whilst accelerating the resettlement process and reducing the time spent in temporary accommodation.
17. Another example of a specialist provision successful in helping tenants with complex needs to maintain a home is Housing First. Supported by Turning Point Scotland, a number of Scottish local authorities have now successfully worked with individuals with addiction needs, mental health concerns, and in most cases, a long history of non- or erratic engagement with support services, to maintain tenancies. The approach is dependent on first providing the client with their own home, not necessarily dependent on their engagement with addiction programmes, as would often be the case in other approaches. Provision of a tenancy, alongside a tailored package of intensive support, including peers from comparable backgrounds, has to date had a high degree of success, as evidenced by the Heriot Watt University evaluation of Turning Point Scotland's Glasgow Housing First project published in 2013.
3.7 Housing Options Across Different Tenures
1. Housing Options should not be constrained by tenure. Housing Options must consider the circumstances of the customer, including their homelessness status where relevant, and explore various but appropriate housing options in the most comprehensive sense.
2. Individual customers' housing options will naturally be constrained by their circumstances, especially their financial circumstances. For some customers, housing options may be very limited, but for others their housing options may only be limited by their knowledge of options and how to engage with them more than their access to finance. For these reasons, it is important that Housing Options advice is 'tenure-neutral' and able to advise on social renting, renting a home privately and owning your own home, as well as more specialised options such as supported accommodation or lodgings.
Advising on housing options appropriate to a customer's financial circumstances is covered in the Training Toolkit Module 5(2), Assessing Housing Affordability. Information on housing options across the range of tenures is available in Module 2(2), Housing Access: Housing System Operation and Tenure Entry.
- Social Renting
3. Social rented housing is a scarce resource. If the only offered solution to a demonstrable housing need was to add the customer's details to the council housing list or even nomination to local housing associations, there would be only limited impact on meeting overall housing need. Housing Options approaches require to be far more creative and far more flexible than this, if levels of housing demand are going to be meaningfully addressed. This is not to say that social housing does not continue to play an important role in meeting housing need, just that an awareness and use of other options is also going to be needed.
4. Six local authorities: Argyll and Bute; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; Dumfries and Galloway; Glasgow; Inverclyde; and Scottish Borders have transferred their stock of council housing to housing associations. In these areas, effective relationships with other landlords, including housing associations, will be even more important in meeting housing need.
5. In local authorities around Scotland, progress has been made towards common housing registers, by which one list accessed by one application is used to allocate all available social housing in a local authority area, a convenient service for applicants who have only to complete one application in order to access all social landlords. In local authority areas where there is not yet a common housing register in place, there may be steps toward it, such as a single application form or a shared allocations policy, which will make applying for social housing more accessible for the customer.
6. In the absence of common housing registers, Housing Options staff will need full information on how social housing is accessed in their area. They may be required to support customers with applications, to provide information about chances of rehousing and to advise on how those chances might be maximised through their choice of area or property type. Options staff must be honest about a customer's chances of being rehoused by a local authority or housing association and explain clearly why, for many people, this may not be the most easily available choice, although this must not be done in such a way that dissuades customers taking this course of action if it is their choice.
7. In some local authority areas, some landlords, both council and housing association, have adopted choice based lettings systems for the allocation of social rented housing, by which available properties are advertised on a regular basis and interested customers submit bids. One concern with choice based lettings is that it may exclude vulnerable customers who have certain support needs, as it places more of the responsibility for a successful housing application on the individual customer rather than rely on the internal systems of the social landlord. Customers might be disadvantaged by their access to IT, their computer literacy, their reading literacy, their ability to complete multiple bid forms and so on. Housing Options staff must be aware of the possibility that customers from certain need groups may be disadvantaged by choice based lettings systems and be ready to provide support to overcome that disadvantage.
8. The promotion and management of mutual exchange processes is another effective Housing Options tool in assisting social rented housing to meet customers' housing needs and aspirations.
9. Promotion and guidance on subletting and lodging can assist social rented tenants in financial difficulty to consider different options of retaining their accommodation whilst providing housing for households looking to share accommodation. This can be further supported by clear policies on sharing accommodation.
- The Private Rented Sector ( PRS)
10. As the Right to Buy and demolitions have reduced the social housing stock, from 38% of the Scottish housing stock in 1993 to 24% in 2013, the private rented sector ( PRS) has increased markedly from 7% to 15% of overall stock. As opportunities to be housed in the social rented sector have shrunk, the PRS has become more significant as a more available tenure.
11. For many customers of Housing Options, renting in the PRS will represent a genuine and appropriate choice. Dependent on customers' housing experience, the PRS may be a new option about which their knowledge is very limited and may not have been an option that they have previously considered. Certain aspects of renting from a private landlord will need to be explained fully and carefully to the customer to ensure that they are aware how renting privately differs from a social housing tenancy.
12. Customers considering the PRS must clearly understand the differences between social and private sector housing, including security of tenure and rental charges, including deposits. Additional information may be required around rights and responsibilities. Officers delivering Housing Options advice must consider affordability based on individual circumstances and advise on entitlement to housing benefit for private rented accommodation, considering the limitation of the shared room rate for individuals under the age of 35. For some customers, support may be required in order to complete and submit benefit applications.
Tenancy rights and responsibilities in different tenures are covered in the Training Toolkit Module 2(3), Housing Options: Housing Rights and Responsibilities for Housing Tenures.
13. Despite differences in security of tenure and rent levels, private renting also offers opportunities, relative to the social rented sector, primarily in relation to choice and availability. Options staff should be able to signpost customers for whom the PRS may be a viable option to local letting agents who are able to advise on current availability in the local PRS market. Many local authorities employ dedicated PRS access staff. There must be close liaison between these staff and staff responsible for delivering Options.
14. The boundary between social rented and private rented sectors is becoming increasingly blurred as many housing associations are now developing mid or market rent properties or even properties for sale. As with any other housing choice, the customer's financial options will need researching to establish what might be within their means, but mid-market and other flexible options should be borne in mind and discussed with the customer wherever they might be a viable option. Housing associations are developing such housing products in order to flexibly meet a range of identified need in their area and an allocation to a mid-market or other more affordable option for those who are able to afford it increases housing access. Options teams should be aware of opportunities for flexible renting within their areas, both current and planned, and should be including them as an option for many customers.
15. One of the significant barriers to accessing a PRS tenancy is the requirement for an upfront deposit. To an individual with little or no money, this can represent an insurmountable obstacle. Most local authorities, as well as other organisations, offer a range of rent deposit guarantee schemes. These schemes should be open to all customers as appropriate regardless of their backgrounds. Options teams should be aware of rent deposit guarantee schemes in their area and ensure that customers are put in touch with these schemes when appropriate.
16. Faced with limited housing options, especially for young people, some local authorities have explored options for allocating shared tenancies to people who previously may not know each other. This has been a common approach in certain circumstances, for example, certain types of supported housing and indeed is common among groups of young people, students or young professionals, seeking affordable accommodation in the private sector.
17. For a local authority Options team, this approach of shared accommodation could work in a social rented or private tenancy, but in those instances where it has been successfully tried, it has primarily been in PRS tenancies. Sustaining shared housing options brings with it additional challenges, especially in allocating shared tenancies to individuals who will be able to successfully live together not only in managing behaviours between the sharing tenants but also between the shared tenancy and neighbouring tenancies. However, house or flat sharing is an affordable option that works well for many, primarily young, people and there is no intrinsic reason why it shouldn't be a viable option for customers that approach Options teams in housing need.
18. Shared tenancies have been promoted as one solution over recent years and resources have been developed that support local authorities' application of this particular housing option. There are examples of the positive use of shared accommodation in averting homelessness. Options teams should consider its application wherever appropriate. See the Crisis report, Sharing in Scotland: Supporting young people who are homeless on the Shared Accommodation Rate here.
- Home Ownership
19. The Housing Options worker should be conducting a full investigation into the customer's financial circumstances and will very quickly establish as part of that process whether home ownership is likely to be an option at all. It may be that a customer has access to resources and/or is in work and is therefore able to consider purchasing a home with a mortgage but requires advice and support in order to start and/or see through that process. Buying a house, especially researching and taking on an appropriate level of mortgage debt, can be a daunting task. Customers, especially from certain need groups, may only be able to achieve this if they are appropriately supported.
20. For some customers, a housing need will have arisen because of a change in their health. Perhaps an advancing disability makes a previously suitable home increasingly impractical. Individuals with such health needs may have access to finance, may already live in the their own home, but will require advice and support to navigate their way through aids and adaptations as a means of making their current home liveable again, or move to a home more appropriate to their current and changing needs.
21. Home ownership options are becoming more flexible. Various options now exist that represent some form of mix between renting and owning. Examples include housing associations' shared ownership schemes and the Scottish Government's Help to Buy and Low-cost Initiative for First Time Buyers (LIFT) schemes. Housing Options teams should ensure that they remain conversant with what shared ownership/shared equity schemes are available at any one time and ensure that they include them as options in discussions with customers for whom they may represent a viable choice.
3.8 Examples of Options Activities
1. In this section of the Guidance, examples of various Options activities are listed. Some aspects of these activities may seem relatively complex, especially if the customer is reporting high support needs. However, this is far from always the case. Meeting the needs of an Options customer may be as straightforward as delivering some relatively limited advice, for example, on the availability of aids and adaptations, or accessing a home in the private rented sector.
- Housing Advice
2. The provision of housing advice is broad in its scope. In particular, advice may be sought in relation to costs of housing. Options teams will commonly be approached for assistance by tenants or homeowners who are experiencing stress and potentially homelessness as they find themselves unable to meet housing costs. Dealing with rent or mortgage arrears may involve the Options advisor in discussing a wide range of steps to assist. With the customer's permission, this may involve contacting the landlord/mortgage provider in order to discuss potential arrears repayment plans that are affordable whilst maintaining the customer in their home. In extreme cases, part of the negotiation with the creditor may include a discussion of the consequences of the current tenant or owner being evicted and the consequent disadvantages of this to the creditor organisation themselves, including court costs, reletting costs, etc. In more complicated cases, Options teams may signpost the customer to specialist independent advice agencies.
3. In certain mortgage arrears cases, it may be appropriate to refer owners in arrears with repayments to the Scottish Government's Home Owners' Support Fund (Mortgage to Rent and Mortgage to Shared Equity schemes). These schemes may enable an owner to remain in their home whilst changing tenure from owning to rent. Housing Options teams should have information relating to these initiatives available to discuss with relevant customers.
4. Tenants' right to repair is another area of housing advice that an Options team may need to provide, usually for customers who consider they are living in unsuitable accommodation, as a result of being unable to get repairs done by their landlord. The response by the Options advisor would certainly be to advise as to their repairing rights, but also could take up the customer's concerns directly with the landlord or letting agent. There are a number of options open to the tenant, including bringing a case before the Private Rented Housing Panel or taking the landlord to court. Housing Options staff need to be able to advise on tenancy rights related to repairs and condition and may be called upon to support the tenant in taking action against the landlord.
5. Care and Repair Scotland may be of assistance to Options teams in meeting the repairing needs of older and disabled homeowner customers.
6. For homeowners, one solution to housing need may be to carry out conversions, extensions, etc, to the property. Local authority schemes of assistance exist to support homeowners with repairs, adaptations work, etc. Through these initiatives, homeowners can access loans and grants, advice and support for work on their home. Options teams require to be aware of the local authority Scheme of Assistance in their area and how it can support housing need and be ready to advise homeowner customers appropriately.
Training Toolkit Module 3(6), Repairs, contains much more information on repairing rights across all tenures.
- Health Advice
7. A customer reporting a housing need may approach with a straightforward housing issue or they may exhibit a complex mix of multiple needs that are compounding to cause the individual stress and difficulty, only part of which relates to their housing circumstances.
8. It is entirely possible that a customer may make an approach related to a housing need that is derived wholly from health reasons. The current accommodation has become unsuitable because of some change in the customer's health circumstances. But it is far more likely that an individual will approach with a housing need and health need as well as multiple other needs. It may necessary to sort out housing issues from health and other issues that contribute to a person having multiple and complex needs.
9. Options teams require to have robust links with health and social care teams and other voluntary sector support agencies in their areas. Options advisers should be able to appropriately refer their customers to health and social care services as part of meeting housing need and the broader complex of issues. If a vulnerable customer is allocated a new home, and their underlying mental health or addictions issues are not addressed, it is highly likely that the housing solution will not be sustained and that the individual will be vulnerable to homelessness.
For much more information about health advice and Housing Options refer to the Training Toolkit Module 4(3), Mental Health and 4(4), Addictions.
- Aids and Adaptations
10. One specific aspect of health-related housing advice is related to the provision of aids and adaptations that might enable a customer to remain in their own home rather than seeking to move. Local authority social work services have responsibility for the assessment and funding of aids and adaptations, soon to be incorporated into the newly integrated Health and Social Care Boards, but the Housing Options customer may require advice on what may be available. The customer may also require support in accessing aids and adaptations.
11. The charity, Housing Options Scotland, exists to support people with a housing need arising from disability or old age.
There's a section of the Training Toolkit about the legislation related to, and the provision of, Aids and Adaptations across all tenures, Module 3(4).
- Financial Inclusion
The Training Toolkit has several modules focussing on the provision of financial advice as part of Housing Options. For example, refer to Modules 5(3), Managing Arrears and 5(4), Welfare Benefits and Income Maximisation.
12. As well as advocating on behalf of a tenant or homeowner who finds themselves in arrears, income maximisation is a complementary approach to situations of debt and must be part of the Housing Options team's workload and expertise. Being able to appropriately refer customers to agencies able to provide more specialist welfare advice is also an important role of the Housing Options adviser.
13. Having a good understanding of the benefits system is essential for the Housing Options adviser. Supporting customers to apply for benefits to which they have an entitlement and advocating on their behalf with the local authority housing benefits team or Department for Work and Pensions in cases of dispute can be a large part of Housing Options work. The value of the intervention can be an important contributor to ensuring that people experiencing benefit stress are able to maintain their home or access suitable housing.
14. Changes to welfare and especially the current rollout of Universal Credit make this a changing environment in which the adviser must maintain their knowledge and ability to respond to need or know how best to signpost to other services.
15. Responses to benefits issues sometimes require more than just welfare advice. For example, the under-occupancy penalty, or bedroom tax, might evoke advice and responses related to moving to a smaller home or taking in a lodger, as much as the welfare advice aspects of the bedroom tax themselves.
16. Outwith DWP benefits and housing benefit paid by local authorities, Housing Options advisers should also be aware of other sources of assistance, such as the Scottish Government welfare schemes, Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants which are payable under the Scottish Welfare Fund scheme. Crisis grants are payable in the event of a flood or fire or other emergency. Discretionary Housing Payments, funded by the DWP, the Scottish Government and local authorities, are also an important support, available to supplement the incomes of those in receipt of housing benefit to cover, for example, bedroom tax deficits.
17. Other loans and grants, either in money or in kind, are often available from voluntary agencies locally, for example, for the setting up of a new home with white goods, carpets and furniture.
18. A good working knowledge of all welfare payments and knowing how to access more specialist benefits knowledge when necessary, is essential to the Housing Options adviser and critical to the successful rehousing of applicants and to the effective sustainment of tenancies.
- Budget Management
The Training Toolkit includes a module, 5(6), focussing on Budgeting and Financial Management.
19. Many of the households that approach a Housing Options service will be on limited incomes. Budgeting for housing costs, utility bills, food and living costs in these circumstances can be challenging for such households.
20. The Housing Options worker should be able to discuss a customer's budget and provide the customer with the necessary skills to ensure that housing payments are regularly scheduled alongside all other essential outgoings. This is an invaluable contribution to maintaining that individual's home and prevents future homelessness.
21. Many customers to Housing Options services will require support in order to achieve skills for independent living. For example, young people or people with certain disabilities may never have lived independently, or had to take responsibility for their own finances, therefore will require support to develop budgeting skills in order to be able to manage their own home. Housing Options services will need to support such customers as appropriate and signpost on to longer term support services.
- Employability Support
The whole of the Training Toolkit Module 6 focuses on Employment and Training Advice as a means of supporting customers into sustainable housing solutions and especially Objective 3 which focuses on Employability specifically.
22. It is recognised that income level can restrict housing options. Staff delivering Housing Options advice are in a position to provide customers information, signposting to local services who can work to develop their skillset, engage in employment support and develop career options that will support the customer's housing and other life aspirations.
23. Local authorities, the national skills body, Skills Development Scotland, Jobcentre Plus, and various supported initiatives run by voluntary sector agencies all offer programmes to support employability for people who experience additional barriers to work.
3.9 Housing Options and Housing Support
1. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, as amended by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, places a duty on local authorities to conduct a housing support assessment for applicants who are unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness and that they have 'reason to believe' need housing support. Housing support services are outlined in regulations as:
(a) advising or assisting a person with personal budgeting, debt counselling or in dealing with welfare benefit claims;
(b) assisting a person to engage with individuals, professionals or other bodies with an interest in that person's welfare;
(c) advising or assisting a person in understanding and managing their tenancy rights and responsibilities, including assisting a person in disputes about those rights and responsibilities; and
(d) advising or assisting a person in settling into a new tenancy.
2. Housing support services are further defined by the 2010 Act as including "any service which provides support, assistance, advice or counselling to an individual with particular needs with a view to enabling that individual to occupy, or to continue to occupy, residential accommodation as the individual's sole or main residence".
3. The legislation is very clear that this duty, to assess for and meet housing support needs, extends only to those who are found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness. Therefore, this statutory duty would not be immediately applicable to everyone who approached Housing Options services, as these services seek to meet the needs of customers beyond those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
4. It is noticeable, however, that many of the housing support services, as defined by the Housing Support Services (Homelessness) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, above, are not very different from many of the activities that were described as being central to the Options approach in the previous section. Budgeting advice, welfare benefits advice, housing advice, etc., and the overall goal of housing support, defined in paragraph 2. above, is virtually indistinguishable from the purpose of Housing Options to prevent homelessness and to deliver housing solutions that are sustainable in the long term.
5. The Housing Options assessment should incorporate a determination of an individual's housing support needs. Where support needs are identified, referral pathways must be in place to ensure people can access the services they require. This must be clearly documented.
The provision of housing support as part of Housing Options is covered in the Training Toolkit at Module 3(4), Promoting Independent Living .
3.10 Proformas, Protocols and Other Resources
1. Whilst statutory homelessness rights are consistent throughout Scotland, Housing Options advice will vary dependent on: the circumstances of the individual; the housing market circumstances prevailing within the area at the time; broader factors such as the nature of the local economy; geography; access to healthcare; the role played by the voluntary sector locally; and a host of other factors. For these reasons, Housing Options cannot be prescribed. What works well in a large urban authority would not necessarily work as well in a small rural local authority.
2. Whilst the approach to Housing Options will differ in response to the diverse housing market and provision of services across Scotland, there are key standards, values, recording and monitoring criteria which should be in place within each local authority. It is for this reason that the 32 Scottish local authorities, supported by the Scottish Government, have developed, commissioned and funded the Housing Options Training Toolkit thereby supporting a nationwide quality standard covering the attitudinal, knowledge and skills requirements of Housing Options workers. The PREVENT1 monitoring framework, as it develops, will also allow local authorities to process benchmarking, ensuring that the standards delivered produce the best sustainable outcomes for people in housing need.
3. Below is a summary of some Housing Options process commonalities across Scotland, that local authorities should consider when reviewing and developing their service:
- approaches to the service, including appointments, lost contacts management;
- the assessment of the customer's circumstances including the information collated,
- reason for approach, family composition, current tenure, linkage with other services, etc;
- consideration of status with regards to homelessness;
- the approach to the assessment of support needs;
- review of the various options in broad terms and how appropriately they might
- support an individual customer;
- recording of advice provided, actions taken and referrals to other agencies;
- staff checklist information;
- customer declarations and mandates;
- outcomes and sustainment;
- monitoring and review framework; and
- quality assurance.
4. Given the commonality in application of Options approaches throughout Scotland, it might be expected that supporting resources would apply similarly across local authorities, and that these could be usefully shared through the Hubs network. Many local authorities have developed forms which support the gathering of relevant, comprehensive information from customers, and support the team member in ensuring the right information is gathered in the most appropriate order. Notes alongside the application form ensure that the member of staff is aware why information is being requested, in order to fully explain to the customer, and appropriate responses to certain items of key information, for example, whether the individual is homeless or threatened with homelessness, are asked and recorded.
5. Some authorities have developed short mandate forms for the customer to complete in circumstances where they have independently taken the decision to withdraw a homelessness application. The form must explain that this in no way reduces their statutory right to make a homelessness application at any time in the future, including during the course of the present Housing Options application, assessment and conclusion.
6. Housing Options teams should develop protocol arrangements internally and in association with partner organisations for the effective delivery of Housing Options. These protocols should include:
- how, when and under what circumstances referrals are made;
- how performance or outcomes are monitored and reported; and
- how arrangements are reviewed.
These protocol documents should be clear and unambiguous but would by their nature be tailored to suit local circumstances and local needs and could therefore be potentially quite different in their form and content.
Operational - Checklist
- Housing Options are delivered in such a way that the homelessness rights of customers are in no way diminished or undermined and this can be evidentially proven.
- Options services are responsive to the needs of the customer and are delivered flexibly.
- The needs of all client groups are met equally and fully.
- High quality comprehensive Options advice is available on demand.
- The range of Options services on offer is comprehensive and meets the holistic needs of clients.
- Options advice is genuinely cross-tenure and of an equally high standard relative to all tenures.
- Staff are aware of, and able to make productive client referrals to, specialist advice whenever necessary.
- Protocols exist for referrals to specialist agencies and other organisations.
- Productive working relationships exist between Options staff and local housing providers, including housing associations and private rented sector providers such as letting agents.
- Productive working relationships exist between Options staff and relevant colleagues in health and social care.
- Productive working relationships exist between Options staff and other relevant institutions such as prisons.
- Staff are clear on the statutory nature of housing support assessment and provision, and how support can be provided to Options customers who are not homeless or threatened with homelessness.
- High quality, effective housing support is provided to clients wherever it would aid housing sustainment.
- Training, based on the structure of the Toolkit, is being accessed by Options staff.
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