PART 1: BACKGROUND TO THE HOUSING SUPPORT DUTY
1. With the achievement of the '2012 target' that all those assessed as unintentionally homeless by local authorities in Scotland are entitled to settled accommodation, unprecedented housing rights for those experiencing homelessness have been established.
2. While these housing rights are a crucial aspect of addressing homelessness in Scotland, access to accommodation alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of some of those that are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
3. Against this backdrop, the prevention of homelessness has been taken forward across Scotland by five regional local authority led 'Housing Options Hubs'. Housing options encompasses looking at an individual's options in the widest sense, featuring early intervention and exploring all options available to a household. This approach has led to falls in recorded homelessness across Scotland since 2010. This work will continue to be developed following the establishment of the Scottish Government/ COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) Homelessness Prevention Group in 2013.
4. 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 this Guidance can therefore be an important tool in addressing homelessness in Scotland.
Purpose of the Guidance
5. This Guidance is provided to assist local authorities and their partners in implementing the housing support duty ('the duty'), which came into force on 1 st June 2013, to help achieve the best possible outcomes for homeless households in their area.
6. The Guidance has been developed, and should be read, against the backdrop of the development of housing options approaches to prevention of homelessness with local partners in local areas and the practice that has emerged as a result of that approach. It is intended that this approach to prevention and the housing support duty should complement each other and that housing support resources should be allocated flexibly across these key objectives whilst adhering to the relevant legislation.
7. In order to reflect the need for local flexibility and innovation, which was highlighted in the public consultation on the duty, this Guidance has been developed by a cross sector working group (please see Annex 2). This included the Scottish Government as facilitator of the Group's collective views. While this is not Scottish Government Guidance, it can be read in conjunction with the Scottish Government's statutory guidance to local authorities on homelessness, prevention of homelessness and for children facing homelessness:
8. Feedback on this Guidance is welcomed, including the highlighting of housing support practice examples. Any comments on the Guidance can be sent to the Scottish Government Homelessness Team who will collate on behalf of the Working Group. Any feedback on the Guidance should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
9. It is intended that the Guidance will be subject to regular review.
The Housing Support Duty for Local Authorities
10. The purpose of the housing support duty ('the duty') is to help prevent homelessness among people that the local authority believe may have difficulty in sustaining their tenancy. The duty is intended to complement the preventative approach developed in recent years through the Housing Options Hubs across Scotland rather than to shift focus and resources from prevention to dealing with the crisis of homelessness.
11. Local authority staff are already providing housing support and advice to applicants through homelessness prevention activity. The housing support duty will, in many cases, mean that these existing approaches continue but will now have the status of being a legal duty.
12. The legislation which established the housing support duty (Section 32B of the of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 inserted by 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. 'The regulations' are the Housing Support Services (Homelessness) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 and are outlined below.
13. The regulations were established after public consultation and the services prescribed are:
(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.
14. If an assessment of a need for support is made, local authorities must ensure the housing support services are provided. If this assessment is made, an assessment also needs to be made for others that reside with the applicant as part of their household.
15. The legislation states that 'housing support services' include any service which provides support, assistance, advice or counseling 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. The form and duration of housing support will vary depending on the individual's circumstances and/or those of the people in the household.
16. If you wish to read the details of the amendment to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 Act in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, which brought in the housing support duty, you can find it at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2010/17/section/158
17. If you wish to read the report written on the responses to the consultation on the housing support duty by Reid Howie, you can find it at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/06/7425
Corporate Responsibility and Joint Working
18. The housing support duty is a corporate duty for local authorities and consequently its implementation is a corporate responsibility. This Guidance should be used to highlight the importance of the duty across local authorities and to local partners. The successful implementation of the duty leading to improved outcomes for those assessed as unintentionally homeless will require the involvement of a range of local authority departments such as housing, social work and education and local partners such as health and third sector organisations.
19. Joint working and developing a corporate approach to tackling homelessness was one of the key priorities agreed by the Scottish Government and COSLA in achieving the 2012 homelessness target. Local authorities can use the opportunity presented by the housing support duty to raise awareness and promote good practice around this issue.
20. Local authorities will need to work with cross-sector partners in their area to meet the support needs of every applicant with a legal entitlement to housing support. Where required, partner agencies (such as registered social landlords) should work closely with local authority housing departments to address support needs.
21. Where they are not already in place, local authorities may wish to consider establishing clear working arrangements and protocols with partner agencies in order to maximise efficiency and use of resources. Local authorities may find it helpful to share experiences and positive practice examples in the development of such protocols.
22. At a more strategic level, local authorities may wish to highlight the requirements of the duty through Community Planning Partnerships to help improve joint working and better plan and deliver services. Future developments could also include Health and Social Care Partnerships and that their strategies should reflect the housing and support needs of homeless people.