3.1. Chart 1 shows the number of homeless applications, the number of these assessed as homeless and the number of priority assessments in each year between 1992-93 and 2011-12. Changes in applications and assessments over this period have in part been driven by changes in legislation, policy and practice.
3.2. The increase in homelessness between 2000-01 and 2006-07 was, in part, a consequence of Scottish homelessness legislation2 which extended councils' duties to non-priority homeless households.
3.3. The narrowing of the gap between the number of homeless and the number of priority homeless from 2000-01 is primarily a consequence of action by local authorities to move towards the 2012 homelessness commitment - that by December 2012 all homeless households will be assessed as priority. Section 4 provides more detail.
3.4. The reduction in homeless applications from 2006-07 and in particular the very large reduction between 2010-11 and 2011-12 is mainly due to the impact of the introduction of housing options services in Scottish local authorities. This is discussed in more detail below.
Chart 1: Scotland: Number of applications and assessments under the homelessness legislation
3.5. Between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012 councils received a total of 45,322 homelessness applications. This is a reduction of over 10,300 (19%) applications over the previous year.
3.6. The number of applications in 2011-12 is 25% lower than the peak value seen in 2005-6, when around 61,000 homelessness applications were made (Chart 1). The marked reduction in homelessness applications seen in 2011-12 is likely to be the result of housing options work being undertaken by local authorities in Scotland. Over the past few years councils have been developing services in which staff assist households to consider the range of options available to address their housing needs. As a consequence some of the households who might previously have made a homelessness application may now have their housing needs met without first becoming homeless or being threatened with homelessness. Further information on the development of housing options services in Scottish local authorities is available at Homelessness Prevention.
3.7. The number of applications has fallen in 30 out of 32 local authorities. Compared with 2010-11, The largest reductions have been seen in Aberdeen City (-56%), Falkirk (-49%), Highland (-40%), Scottish Borders (-37%), East Lothian (-35%) and Stirling (-35%). A further five local authorities have seen reductions in applications of between 20- 30%, twelve have seen reductions between 10-20% and seven have seen reductions of less than 10%. Applications have increased in two local authority areas - South Ayrshire (+4%) and Midlothian (+15%).
What is causing the reductions?
3.8. It is very unlikely that the large reduction in homelessness applications is a consequence of any changes in the social and economic factors which cause households to approach councils for assistance with an acute or urgent housing need. All other things being equal we might have expected homeless applications to increase in the present recession and also as a consequence of recent changes to housing benefit.
3.9. It is much more likely that the reductions are a consequence of a major Scotland wide initiative to prevent homelessness. Through this initiative councils have been developing services, generally described as ‘housing options services’ in which staff assist households to consider the range of options available to address their housing needs. For example councils might provide mediation services to assist in resolving disputes within the household, or they might assist households secure a private let by guaranteeing the rent deposit. As a consequence, some of the households who might previously have made a homelessness application will now have their housing needs met without first becoming homeless or being threatened with homelessness.
3.10. An Evaluation of the homelessness options hubs published in May 2012 showed that there was wide variation between councils in the speed of implementation of housing options/ homelessness prevention. The evaluation stated that it was not possible within the evaluation methodology to attribute all of the reduction in applications to the impact of the housing options approach. (Paragraph 2.14). The evaluation also notes in paragraph 3.30 that a number of local authorities reported that the impact of housing options had been very significant while a few reported limited progress.
3.11. To test our view that the housing options initiative is the main cause of the reductions we also asked the three councils with the largest reductions in applications to provide more background on these. We approached these councils purely for background information and not as a representative random sample of local authorities. All three confirmed that the reductions in their areas were mainly due to the impact of the housing options approach adopted by the council. One council, Highland, specifically noted that, although it was early days, actions to help households maintain their current accommodation and to assist households obtain private rented accommodation were helping to reduce homelessness.
3.12. To get a better understanding of the overall impact of the housing options/ homelessness prevention initiatives we are currently consulting with councils on a possible new statistical data collection to identify numbers assisted through housing options, their circumstances and the outcomes of the assistance provided by councils.
Impact on Applications and Assessments
3.13. The impact of housing options work appears to be having a uniform impact across household types and age groups, at least at the Scotland level. There is no evidence to indicate that any one group is being impacted more by housing options work than any other.
3.14. Whilst the number of applications has reduced, how these applications are assessed has remained broadly unchanged – around three quarters are assessed as homeless or potentially homeless. The categories of priority need assessments of those assessed as homeless or potentially homeless has remained unchanged, albeit that there has been an increase in those awarded priority as a result of local policy. This is directly the result of local authorities meeting the 2012 commitment.
3.15. In summary, whilst housing options work is reducing the total number of applications overall, there is no evidence to suggest that it is impacting on how these applications are being assessed. The increase in priority need assessments is linked to local authorities meeting the 2012 target, rather than an underlying change in the profile of those assessed as homeless.
Characteristics of applicants
3.16. Of the 45,322 applications for assistance in 2011-12, 28,887 (64%) were single people, of whom around 19,000 were men and 10,000 were women. Around 13,700 applications (30% of applications) were from households with children, most of whom were single parent households (24% of all applications). Of the 10,817 applications by single parents, 7,738 (72%) were by female applicants. (Chart 2)
3.17. Overall, whilst the number of applications has changed over the last ten years, the profile of households has stayed remarkably stable. In 2011-12 around 64% of applicants were single people and 24% single parents. This is very similar to the proportions in 2010-11 and 2006-07. (Chart 2 and table 2c).
Chart 2: Number of applications in 2011-12 by household type
3.18. Chart 3 shows the age distribution of the main applicant in the household, for those who applied as homeless in 2011-12. Homeless households have a young age profile - over half are headed by someone aged under 30 (51% in 2011-12). Female applicants typically have a slighter younger age profile than males - around 40% of female applicants are aged under 25 while this figure is only 29% for male applicants.
Chart 3: Age and sex of main applicants - all household types: Scotland 2011-12
3.19. The proportion of homeless applications by ethnic group has remained unchanged since 2007-08. From Chart 4, in 91.8% of applications in 2011-12, the main applicant was recorded as White, 1.2% were recorded as Black, Black Scottish or Black British, 1.3% were recorded as Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British and 2.7% as in other ethnic groups. An ethnic group was not recorded for 3% of all applicants.
3.20. In 2011-12, 412 applicants described themselves as a gypsy/ traveller. However, it is important to note that no response was given to this question for 999 applicants in 2011-12, so the number of gypsy/ travellers applying for assistance may be understated slightly.
Chart 4: Number of applications in 2011-12 by ethnic group of main applicant
3.21. In 2011-12, 1,236 homeless applicants had a household member who had previously been in the armed forces - the lowest number recorded to date. Of these, 453 had been in the armed forces less than 5 years ago and 783 more than 5 years ago. (Chart 5) It should be noted that, for 1,986 applications, the response to the question asking about service in the armed forces was 'not known/ refused'.
3.22. In the same period, 1,956 applicants aged under 25 had a household member who had been formerly looked after by the local authority, of which 1,089 had been looked after within five years of making their homelessness application. (Chart 5). This was the lowest number of applications received from formerly looked-after people since recording began in 2007-08. It should be noted that for 1,377 applications, 'not known/ refused' was the response when asked if a member of the applicant household had been previously looked after by the local authority.
Chart 5: Number of applications formerly in the armed forcesand number of applicants formerly looked after by the local authority in 2011-12: Scotland
Prior circumstances of applicants
3.23. Of the 45,322 homelessness application in 2011-12, 20,951 (46%) had been living with friends and relatives, while 15,324 (34%) had been living in their own accommodation (i.e. which they either rented or owned). (Table 3 and Chart 6).
Chart 6: Prior housing circumstances of applicants 2010-11 and 2011-12
Reasons for homelessness
3.24. The main reasons for applying as homeless have remained unchanged over the past year. Relationship breakdown is the main cause of homelessness applications. This is reflected in the high numbers of applicants who cite a dispute within the household (28% of all applications in 2011-12) or being asked to leave (26% of 2011-12 applications). (Table 4 and Chart 9). Rent arrears or mortgage default account for around 5% of all homelessness applications in 2011-12, while 5% of applications are from those leaving prison/ hospital/ care or some other institution.
Chart 7: Main reason for applying for assistance: All applications: Scotland: 2011-12
3.25. In addition to the main reason for homelessness the statistical return also allows applicants to identify factors which have also contributed to their homelessness. This reflects the fact that the causes of homelessness can be complex and not the result of a single incident or event. In 2011-12 additional contributory reasons were recorded for 52% of applications.
3.26. Of those cases where there was an additional factor contributing to homelessness:-
- In over half of these (52%) 'not to do with the applicant household' such as landlord selling the property, fire, circumstances of other persons sharing the property, harassment by others - contributed to homelessness;.
- In 17% of these cases lack of support from friends and family was an additional factor;
- In 15% of these cases 'financial difficulties, debt or unemployment' was an additional factor;
- In 12% of these cases drug or alcohol dependency was an additional factor.
Chart 8: Reason(s) for failing to maintain accommodation: Scotland
Financial and economic reasons for homelessness applications
3.27. There was a 29% reduction between 2010-11 and 2011-12 in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a local authority, a reduction (of 20%) in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a private landlord and a reduction (of 39%) in those presenting as homeless because of mortgage default. (Table 5a)
3.28. The number presenting as homeless because of the forced division and sale of the matrimonial home dropped substantially from 725 in 2007-08, to 374 in 2008-09. Since then there have been around 340 applications per year due to forced divisions. During 2011-12, this reduced further to only 253 applications, a reduction of 24% on the previous year.
3.29. During 2011-12, there has been an increase (of 9%, 17 applications) in the number presenting as homeless because of rent arrears to a housing association.
3.30. In 2011-12, there were 2,106 applications (5% of applications) which cited rent arrears or mortgage default as the main reason for the application (Table 4). In all, 3,655 applications stated that financial difficulties/ debt/ unemployment were a contributory factor (Table 5d). The number of applications which gave financial difficulties as a contributing factor fell by 26% between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Applicants on waiting lists
3.31. In 2011-12, 34% of homelessness applications were from households on a social housing waiting list immediately prior to their homelessness application. This proportion varied widely between councils from 80% in Dundee to 6% in South Ayrshire. (Chart 9) The response was 'Unknown/ Refused' for 826 of the 45,322 cases in 2011-12.
Chart 9: Percentage of applications in 2011-12 from households on a social housing waiting list immediately prior to their homelessness application
3.32. In 2011-12, 4% of applicants (1,931 in total or 161 per month) slept rough the night before applying for assistance. The incidence of rough sleeping among homeless applicants was highest in Edinburgh (437 cases or 10% of applications) and Moray (46 cases, 9%) while fewer than 1% of applicants were recorded as sleeping rough the night before application in North Lanarkshire. South Lanarkshire and West Lothian reported no rough sleepers. Fife Council has seen a marked decrease in the number of applicants who slept rough the night before applying (74 cases in 2011-12 compared with 373 cases in 2010-11). (Chart 10)
Chart 10: Percentage of homeless applicants in 2011-12 who slept rough the night before applying for assistance
 This development has been supported and promoted by the Scottish Government through the creation and funding of joint local authority housing options hubs in which councils have shared experiences, lessons learned and developed training for staff while developing and implementing their housing options/ homelessness prevention services. Further information on the development of housing options services in Scottish local authorities is available at Homelessness Prevention.
Return to paragraph 3.9.
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