Prevention of homelessness duties: consultation
Section 1: Introduction

Section 1: Introduction

Imagine a world where homelessness is rare, brief and unlikely to happen again. It might be difficult to imagine, but it is not impossible. In most cases, homelessness is preventable.

Scotland has strong housing rights for those experiencing homelessness, but we know that experiences of homelessness can go beyond the need for housing and can involve a range of unmet needs. It has been identified that we can do more at an earlier stage to prevent someone reaching a housing crisis that results in the trauma and indignity of homelessness. That is what the proposals in this consultation intend to address, underpinned by new legal duties on public bodies for the prevention of homelessness, which we intend to take forward through a Housing Bill introduced in year two of this Parliament.

Much of the early intervention and prevention work addressed in this consultation can be undertaken with people who do not have high or complex support needs to help ensure they do not reach the crisis of homelessness. We do know however, that there is often increased contact with health services before homelessness occurs and that struggles with mental health and addictions, experience of the criminal justice system and other factors are common 'routes in' to homelessness for those facing severe and multiple disadvantage. People experiencing homelessness may have experienced poverty and trauma, including higher prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

We recognise that legislation alone cannot do all we need to do to prevent homelessness. We need to use the evidence of the triggers of homelessness and acknowledge and support activities that are further upstream to the places and opportunities where, with the right support, events which otherwise might be the trigger to homelessness have a very different outcome.

This consultation about legislation creates an opportunity for a wider consideration about what all of us can do to be involved in, and support early intervention, and the prevention of homelessness long before it might happen.

Background to this consultation

In September 2017, the First Minister set out a new commitment to eradicate rough sleeping, transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland and end homelessness. Ministers subsequently established the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) to make recommendations on how these changes could be achieved.

HARSAG produced a comprehensive set of recommendations aiming to secure strategic changes at both national and local level, and which would help support delivery on the front-line. In November 2018, the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) responded with the Ending Homelessness Together action plan (updated in October 2020) which sets out the actions we will take in partnership with others to end rough sleeping and homelessness. A key action in Scotland's new homelessness strategy was to develop wide-reaching prevention duties.

At the request of Scottish Government, Crisis convened the Prevention Review Group (PRG), chaired by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick to develop recommendations for legal duties on Scottish local authorities and wider public bodies to prevent homelessness, and how these might be best implemented.

The recommendations in the final report of the Prevention Review Group,

Preventing Homelessness in Scotland published in early 2021, provide the framework for this consultation document. Background information on homelessness in Scotland including the work of the Prevention Review Group and its final report is included at Annex A, and the membership of the Prevention Review Group is included at Annex B.

Points about this consultation

In this consultation we are asking questions based around the full package of proposed recommendations from the PRG, in the spirit with which the recommendations were made.

While you are encouraged to respond to all of the questions, we recognise that not all contributors will wish to respond to each question. We have endeavoured to make it clear where input from specific contributors is encouraged, for example, those working in health and social care, those with lived experience of homelessness, etc.. However, in light of the presentation of a package of proposals mentioned above, it may be helpful to consider when responding whether you believe this feels like the right package of proposals, as most will be dependent on the delivery of the whole package or at least on other specific recommendations being implemented. Questions on the whole package of proposals can be found at section 4.

You will see references to 'stable' and 'suitable' accommodation throughout the consultation and recommendations in this regard are explained more fully in section 3. These are terms used in the Prevention Review Group recommendations, and you may wish to give consideration to the policy intentions behind these terms in responding to the package of proposals.

In the same spirit, it is worth noting that the PRG recommendations were drafted on the basis of further legislative change beyond the scope of this consultation. The Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2019 was commenced on 7 November 2019, introducing discretion for local authorities in assessing homelessness applications for intentionality.

There was limited consensus in a 2019 consultation about the option of removing intentionality entirely and work will continue with partners, lawyers and other stakeholders to consider next steps. As intentionality has been discretionary since November 2019, local authority reporting data will be used to understand the impacts of this change to inform next steps. A review of the legislation following commencement is in progress.

With such a wide range of proposals, presented as a package, we recognise that there may be concerns about any 'unintended consequences' of certain recommendations, and we have sought to draft the questions in a way that will allow feedback on those aspects of the recommendations.

It is also worth highlighting at this stage that, while making recommendations around a number of specific groups that may be at risk of homelessness, including children and young people, the PRG made a point of not providing specific recommendations for those who have experienced the care system, as it was considered by the PRG that recent initiatives – the youth homelessness prevention pathway (Improving Care Leavers' Housing Pathways, 2019) and the Independent Care Review's reports, 2020 – still need time to bed in.

Aims of the consultation

Our aim is to introduce legislation in the upcoming Housing Bill in year two of this Parliament, which leads to system change and person centred and trauma-informed service responses to meet individual needs to better prevent homelessness, while providing greater choice and control for those at risk of homelessness. The intention is that this legislation should strengthen the level of housing rights, and not result in any deterioration (the principle of non-regression).

Housing to 2040[1] sets out a vision for what the Scottish Government wants homes and communities to look and feel like for the people of Scotland, and a draft Rented Sector Strategy consultation will also be launched in December 2021. Ensuring that everyone has a warm, safe, secure home that meets their needs is central to the visions set out in these documents – and is central to the aim of this consultation too.

We know that earlier intervention by public bodies, landlords and local authorities, who are the focus of the proposed recommendations in this homelessness prevention consultation, and by the wider community can help prevent people being forced to experience the trauma of homelessness.

As well as protecting people from this experience and promoting better outcomes for individuals and families, homelessness prevention makes economic sense, with public bodies, landlords, local authorities and the wider community no longer facing the cost of homelessness and repeat homelessness, and increased use of temporary accommodation etc.

There is already much good practice by local authorities, wider public bodies and landlords and the third sector that takes place in preventing homelessness, including through joint working with their partners. This joint working has been enhanced in some areas through responses to COVID-19 since March 2020. This consultation offers the chance to give views on how we can improve practice around joint working on prevention through legislative change to ensure consistency of delivery across Scotland, while recognising local circumstances and decision making. It also asks for reflections on how new duties would change organisational practice, and what the resource implications of that may be.

We want to ensure that this consultation and any future legislative proposals are informed by considerations of equality and diversity and human rights. People who face social, income and health inequalities are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and may face further inequalities related to their age, race, disability, sex, sexual orientation or other protected characteristics.

This consultation paper invites your views in two broad areas:

1. Introducing new duties (through a Housing Bill expected in 2023) on a range of public bodies and landlords to prevent homelessness, particularly by asking and acting on a risk of homelessness, as well as responsibilities relating to strategic and joint planning.

2. Changing existing homelessness legislation to ensure homelessness is prevented at an earlier stage, including a proposal to extend the duty to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness up to six months before, to maximise the housing options available to people and to prescribe what reasonable steps may include.

Sections 2 and 3 of this document highlight the recommendations of the Prevention Review Group, followed by a short background section on the specific proposed recommendations and our consultation questions on those recommendations.

We would encourage you to respond to any or all of the questions in sections 2 and 3. Questions on the full package of proposals, potential resources and monitoring required for the implementation of any new duties are included at section 4.

We have also produced questions to ensure a wide range of views including of those with lived or living experience of housing crisis, homelessness or risk of homelessness are captured as part of this consultation. These questions are available at section 5 of this consultation.

The consultation paper contains seven sections:

Section 1: Introduction

Section 2: Proposed recommendations by the Prevention Review Group and consultation questions on duties to prevent homelessness on wider public bodies and landlords.

Section 3: Proposed recommendations by the Prevention Review Group and consultation questions on reforming homelessness legislation to prevent homelessness.

Section 4: Questions on the package of proposals, resources and monitoring.

Section 5: Questions on the PRG proposals on prevention of homelessness duties for people with lived or living experience of housing crisis, homelessness or risk of homelessness.

Section 6: How to respond – contains information on how to respond to the consultation and a copy of the respondent information form.

Section 7: Annexes


Contact

Email: Homelessness_External_Mail@gov.scot