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.

Annex 3 - Current statutory guidance covering Housing Options

1. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, section 31, states that:

'(1) where a local authority are satisfied that an applicant is homeless (2)… they shall… secure that permanent accommodation becomes available for his occupation.'

If the circumstances mean that the requirements of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 are such that a homelessness application should be made, then that is one of the housing options that must be explored with the household. Housing Options is about widening choice for a household, not about gate-keeping homelessness applications. Housing Options is not about undermining people's statutory homelessness rights.

2. Section 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 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.

3. Section 2 of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 removed the priority need test, meaning local authorities have a duty to rehouse all people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness:

"From such day as the Scottish Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument appoint [subsequently set as 31 December 2012], the question whether an applicant has a priority need is to be left out of account in determining the duties of a local authority under:

(a) section 31 (duties to persons found to be homeless), and
(b) section 32 (duties to persons found to be threatened with homelessness),of the 1987 Act."

4. Against this background, the Code of Guidance on Homelessness, the statutory guidance attached to the legislation, was revised in 2005 to reflect the changing environment around homelessness. The Code of Guidance addresses prevention, housing advice and Housing Options.

Paragraph 3.17 states, "all services should ensure that they are promoting and practising values which deliver responsive and personalised services. Staff should ensure that accommodation and services are offered on the basis of a thorough assessment of the applicant's needs and that these needs are assessed in a holistic fashion. The emphasis should be on finding sustainable solutions - not on a rigid application of the legislation which does not take into account the individual circumstances of the household (although an individual's entitlements should never be undermined)."

Paragraph 4.4 states, "local authorities have a duty to provide good quality housing advice on a range of housing options of which accessing local authority or housing association accommodation via a homeless application is one…at all times, staff must be aware that should an individual wish to make a homeless application, they are within their rights to do so, and housing staff must accept that application. Staff should ensure that applicants are aware of their legal rights or where they may receive information on these."

5. The Scottish Government and COSLA produced Prevention of Homelessness Guidance in 2009. This also addresses Housing Options work.

Paragraph 50 states, "Housing Options work has an important and valuable contribution to make to homelessness prevention activity. There has been growing recognition of the potential value of providing a range of options where people make enquiries about housing. John Hills' review of social housing published in 2007 highlighted the success of the 'Housing Options approach' in preventing homelessness. To achieve most benefit from this approach, people should be assisted to understand the range of potential options available to them and their family if appropriate, in their area and based on their personal circumstances, at the earliest opportunity."

Paragraph 52 states, "Decisions about the most appropriate use of the "Options" approach when an applicant contacts a council to make a homelessness application need to be balanced with the legal duty to respond to the application. It may be entirely appropriate to offer a Housing Options interview as a precursor to completion of a homelessness application; however, if the applicant is homeless at the time of interview or threatened with homelessness within two months, a homelessness application should also be completed. Efforts to prevent homelessness should then progress alongside the routine administration of the homelessness application, particularly where a diagnostic assessment indicates that a real opportunity exists to prevent it."

6. The legislation which established the housing support duty ( Section 158 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010) states there is 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 the housing support services prescribed in regulations. Housing support is defined 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'. Housing support services, as prescribed by the 2010 Act, were further defined in Housing Support Services (Homelessness) (Scotland) Regulations 2012:

(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;
(d) advising or assisting a person in settling into a new tenancy.

The provision of housing support can be an important part of preventing homelessness and repeat homelessness. Following the provision of a tenancy, it will be important that the tenancy has the best possible chance to be sustained. The housing support duty for local authorities covered by the regulations and the guidance are important tools in addressing homelessness in Scotland.


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