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

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

Introduction

This sectionfirstly (a) focuses on the principles that guided the Prevention Review Group (PRG) approach and secondly (b), on the duties on wider public bodies and landlords.

The proposed recommendations in this consultation focus on those public bodies identified by the Prevention Review Group as having a potential role in preventing homelessness. The PRG made proposals in the following areas: health and social care; children's services, including assistance for young people and 16 and 17 year olds; criminal justice (prisons, courts and Police Scotland). These proposals include recommendations for case co-ordination for people with multiple and complex needs; people at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic abuse; and joining-up services through strategic planning.

The PRG also proposed recommendations on social landlords and the private rented sector.

2 a) Principles of the PRG

Overarching 'foundational principles'

  • The Prevention Review Group (PRG) set out the following overarching 'foundational principles' in guiding its approach to providing recommendations for legislative changes on the prevention of homelessness:
    • Responsibility to prevent homelessness should be a shared public responsibility and not rely solely or primarily on the homelessness service.
    • Intervention to prevent homelessness should start as early as possible. In many cases this will be before issues have escalated to a point where homelessness appears imminent.
    • People facing homelessness should have choice in where they live and access to the same range of housing outcomes as members of the general public, with appropriate protections to mitigate further risk of homelessness. Housing outcomes should be comparable across the prevention and homelessness duties.

Question

Q1. Do you agree that these are the right foundational principles?

Q2. Are there any other principles that should be included? If so, why?

The principle of 'ask and act' duties

The principle of 'ask and act' emerged from the Prevention Commission, a group of people with lived and frontline experience of the homelessness system, working with the PRG. Each of the public bodies considered would need to identify whether the people they work with have a risk of homelessness or are experiencing housing problems, and then they would have a different role and opportunities to act on this information. In some cases the action required would be a referral to the local authority, similar to the referral duty created on public bodies in England under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. In other cases, the public body may be in a position to take more in-depth action to prevent homelessness.

The reference to 'public bodies' in the PRG report and in this consultation should be read as those public bodies outside of local authority housing departments that can play a role in preventing homelessness. More broadly, the basis for recognising public bodies is clarified in the national directory: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-public-bodies-directory/

  • PRG proposal: Public bodies in their role to prevent homelessness should identify a risk of homelessness, and "act" upon that information: "ask" and "act" duties.

Questions

Q3. Do you agree with the proposals to introduce new duties on public bodies to prevent homelessness?

Q4. Do you agree that public bodies should be required to 'ask and act' to prevent homelessness?

Q5. Which public bodies do you think a new duty to prevent homelessness should apply to and why?

The principle that no-one should be discharged from institutions without anywhere to sleep that night.

In the words of the Prevention Commission, as far as possible, people should leave institutions "to go straight into their own safe, secure homes". The intention is to see public bodies work together with homelessness and housing services to ensure that people have a seamless transition into settled accommodation at the point of leaving an institution and that no one leaving their services becomes homeless. In practice, often the work to save accommodation may be best done at the beginning of entry into an institution. The approach being considered is that anyone leaving an institution within the next six months with no accommodation arrangements should be considered as threatened with homelessness.

The policy intention is that no one should unnecessarily become homeless due to entering an institution, and public bodies should collaborate closely to ensure people can return to previous housing or move to new, suitable housing on leaving the institution in a planned manner. As an example, prisons cannot hold people beyond their liberation date and would therefore benefit from early collaboration with local authorities to ensure that no one is discharged into homelessness.

  • PRG proposal: No one should be discharged from institutions without anywhere to sleep that night.

Questions

Q6. Do you agree to introducing a statutory duty on public bodies to prevent homelessness for anybody leaving an institution within six months?

Q7. What would help public bodies to meet this requirement and how might it work in practice?

2 b) Duties on wider public bodies and landlords

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for Health and Social Care

  • PRG proposal: A statutory duty is placed on the Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) to identify the housing circumstances of service users, and where necessary work with partners to ensure that service users are assisted into suitable housing or that a risk of homelessness is prevented.

The PRG highlighted that people with experience of homelessness have a much higher interaction with health services than those who do not. A health and homelessness data linkage project[2] showed that, of the study population, the third which had experienced homelessness made up the majority of associated attendances at some health services. In particular, more acute services including accident and emergency (A&E) (55% of attendances associated with the study population), acute hospital admissions (52%), admissions to mental health specialities (80%), and drug and treatment assessments (90%). The third of the study population experiencing homelessness also made up nearly half (49%) of outpatient appointments. This study also showed that people's use of health services peaks just before they make their first ever homelessness application.

The PRG identified that there is evidence of a lack of co-operation between health and social care services and homelessness services to prevent homelessness. Often the point of entry to health and social care services will be a critical point to intervene in preventing homelessness, for example, where someone is entering hospital for inpatient psychiatric assistance. The intention is that where the housing need is related to a lack of accommodation or housing support needs, this should be a referral to the local authority for housing and homelessness assistance. In some areas of Scotland, these services are brought together in the Health and Social Care Partnership.

Please note that the PRG recommendations mentioned new duties on Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCPs). However, Integration Authorities represent partnerships between Local Authorities and Health Boards for delivering health and social care services and integration of budgets. They are governed by the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014, and are the bodies through which community health and social care services are planned to provide care for individuals in their community, or in a homely setting and avoid unnecessary admissions to hospital. A Health and Social Care Partnership is an umbrella term to refer to the range of professionals working to deliver community health and social care services under the direction of the Integration Authority. This distinction is reflected in the questions below.

Questions

Q8. Do you agree with the proposal that Integration Authorities should identify the housing circumstances of people using health and social care services, and where necessary work with partners to ensure that service users are assisted into suitable housing or prevent the risk of homelessness?

Q9. Do you agree that a new legislative duty on Integration Authorities to identify housing circumstances of patients is the best way to prevent homelessness?

  • PRG proposal: Where needs are more complex, to the extent that they cannot be supported in mainstream housing even with additional support, then primary responsibility for meeting those accommodation needs should sit with the Health and Social Care Partnership.

The policy intention of this proposal is to capture the needs of those who require highly specialist medical or other support in supported accommodation. It is not intended to cover needs that might be met through Housing First provision, which is provided in mainstream settled accommodation with intensive support.

The PRG highlighted that those with complex needs are at serious risk of falling through the cracks in mainstream service provision, including accessing housing options/homelessness services. The Hard Edges Scotland research[3], published in 2019, looked at the needs of this group and found that homelessness services often "carry the can" and lead on cases with this client group, particularly in the absence of a court order.

Questions

Q10. Do you agree that the Integration Authority should have primary legal responsibility for meeting accommodation and support needs where cases are so complex that they cannot be met in mainstream accommodation even with support?

Q11. How would the Integration Authority having primary legal responsibility where cases are so complex work in practice?

Q12. Do you think a duty on the Integration Authority would positively impact on preventing homelessness for people with a range of more complex needs?

  • PRG proposal: Where a social worker or social care worker identifies a risk of homelessness, they should make a referral to the relevant part of the local authority. If they consider that there are unmet social care needs, a social care needs assessment should be carried out.

Question

Q13. Do you agree with the proposal for a social worker or social care worker to have a duty to 'ask and act' about housing issues or the risk of homelessness?

  • PRG proposal: Where it is identified that an individual may have health and social care needs as part of an assessment of homelessness or threat of homelessness, or an assessment of housing support needs, a statutory duty is placed on the health and social care partnership to co-operate with the local authority in planning to meet those needs.

This was highlighted as a priority recommendation in the PRG report and relates to the homelessness assessment process and requiring co-operation to provide assistance from health and social care to meet any underlying health and social care needs.

The intention is that effective strategic planning across health and social care and housing services will support the fulfilment of these duties. Since the PRG made its recommendations, the Scottish Government has had a consultation[4] on establishing a new National Care Service which ended on 2 November 2021, and any potential legislative changes as a result of this will need to be considered in progressing any proposals.

Question

Q14. Do you agree that a duty to co-operate on the Integration Authority is the best way to ensure that people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness as a result of unmet health or social care needs, get the support they need from Health and Social Care services? If not, please explain how this might be addressed.

  • PRG proposal: By working with other partners, the local authority must ensure that the service for prevention and alleviation of homelessness is designed to meet the needs of people leaving hospital and people with mental illness or impairment.

Question

Q15. What changes to existing practice do you think local authorities and relevant health and social care services would have to make, to ensure they meet the needs of those leaving hospital and those with mental illness and impairment?

  • PRG proposal: The local authority must provide assistance to anyone who is going to be discharged from hospital in the next six months and is considered as threatened with homelessness.

Questions

Q16. Do you agree with the proposal that the local authority must provide assistance to anyone who is going to be discharged from hospital? What is the main difference this statutory change would make to those in hospital and at risk of homelessness?

Q17. What would be the main challenges of introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to house those due to be discharged from hospital within the next six months?

  • PRG proposal: GP practices should be under a requirement to refer to the local authority where a risk of homelessness is identified.

A theme which emerged during the work of the PRG was the role of GPs (GP practices are only public bodies for some purposes). As a universal service, GPs treat patients in the widest range of circumstances. In England there is a duty to refer under prevention legislation, but not for GPs, and the PRG noted that GPs are one of the services least likely to refer to housing.

This may raise concerns about GP practices being asked to intervene in patient's lives where not requested by patients and for a non-immediately clinical reason. For information, a network of Community Link Workers are deployed to (rather than employed by) some GP practices in Scotland to address some of the non-medical issues of patients.

Questions

Q18. Do you agree with the proposal that GP practices are required to refer to local authorities where there is a risk of homelessness identified?

Q19. Are there any additional approaches that could be adopted by GP practices to better identify and respond to housing need?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for case co-ordination for people with multiple or complex needs

  • PRG proposal: For people with complex needs requiring input from two or more public services to support their health or wellbeing, or to facilitate community safety, a case co-ordination approach is put in place. These needs would include, but not be limited to risk of homelessness; substance misuse or involvement with criminal justice, including support and services that may be provided by the health board or integration authority; other parts of the local authority; community justice partners (see section 13 Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016) and relevant third sector partners.

Following the publication of the evidence highlighted in the Hard Edges Scotland report, there has been increased recognition across the homelessness sector of the need for better joined-up person centred and trauma-informed services to address the range of needs and severe and multiple disadvantage which some people experience. The intention of this proposal is to ensure this approach is consistent across Scotland, through providing a statutory basis for the involvement of a range of appropriate partners needed to help prevent homelessness.

Questions

Q20. Do you agree with the proposal that a statutory duty to put a case co-ordination approach in place for people requiring input from two or more public services is the right approach? If you disagree, please say how public services can best work together to prevent homelessness for people with more complex needs.

Q21. If this statutory duty is established, how would it work in practice? What challenges would it present and how could these be best addressed?

  • PRG proposal: The approach to case co-ordination for people with multiple or complexneeds should consist of:

a. Identification of a professional to lead on contact with the individual and co-ordinate service provision

b. A means for overseeing case co-ordination to:

i. Identify and address gaps in service provision and co-ordination for such individuals

ii. Manage and prevent escalation of risk.

The PRG noted that some local areas already have approaches similar to this which has improved further in response to the COVID public health emergency. Some hold regular meetings to co-ordinate support for people with complex needs, or people who are on the threshold of adult support and protection. Other areas may identify individuals known across specific services such as homelessness, criminal justice and substance misuse and put in place co-ordinated approaches to working with these individuals.

For under 18's, it may also include children's and families services within the local authority. The intention is to allow flexibility for different local mechanisms. The PRG were also cautious of defining complex needs in detail, to avoid creating the service boundaries that this group of people so often fall between.

Question

Q22. What difference would a case co-ordination approach make to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness who have more complex needs?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for Children's Services

  • PRG proposal: If a health visitor and head teacher identifies that there is a housing issue or a risk of homelessness for a family, they should make a request for assistance to the local authority's homelessness service.

The PRG noted that around 27% of households making a homelessness application include children, with 10,129 applications in 2018-19, representing 14,043 children. Households with children spend longer in temporary accommodation, on average 219 days compared to 166 days for households without children. Schools and health visitors were identified as having key roles in supporting children and identifying factors that may present a homelessness risk, such as poverty or relationship breakdown.

In preparing the local Children's Services Plan, the local authority and health board will work with relevant partners to ensure local services and support meet the needs of children, young people, and families at risk of homelessness.

Question

Q23. Do you agree with the proposal to establish a duty on health visitors or head teachers to identify a housing issue or risk of homelessness to a local authority?

Q24. How would a duty on health visitors or head teachers to identify a housing issue or risk of homelessness to a local authority work in practice? At what stage should a request for assistance be made to the local authority?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for young people

  • PRG proposal: Local authorities should work with partners to ensure the service meets the needs of young people at risk of homelessness. Services should be able to respond to the diversity of this group.

Under section 57 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 'young people' are those who have reached the age of 16, but are under the age of 26.

The PRG noted that there is clear evidence of particular risk factors, including experience of a range of adverse childhood experiences, running away, truanting or being excluded from school, or being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young person. Experience of homelessness at a young age is associated with the risk of later homelessness.

There was a suggestion from PRG members and stakeholders that a focus on tackling youth homelessness may have lessened in some areas in recent years, and that there was a lack of coherent housing and support offers for young people and those setting up home for the first time.

Question

Q25. How can we ensure a homelessness prevention service is designed to meet the needs of young people at risk, in partnership with other relevant services?

  • PRG proposal: Local authorities should ensure that they have family mediation available as part of their homelessness prevention offer.

The establishment of a family mediation service as part of a minimum statutory framework to prevent homelessness is also referred to in section 4 of this consultation under potentially prescribed 'reasonable steps' for the local authority to take.

Mediation will only be applicable where appropriate and safe. Mediation is not appropriate in some circumstances e.g. domestic abuse.

Question

Q26. Do you agree that a local authority, possibly in partnership with others, should have a family mediation service as part of its legislative duties to prevent youth homelessness?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for 16 and 17 year-olds

  • PRG proposal: Young people aged 16 and 17 at risk of homelessness must be treated as children under the law and should receive assistance from children's social work, who have expertise in the needs of this group. Primary responsibility for assisting homelessness 16 and 17 year-olds should sit with social work.

Young people in Scotland are considered to have legal capacity from age 16 and, if they qualify, have a right to their own tenancy, but are considered children for the purposes of children's services up to the age of 18 under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. Some young people, including those that have experienced the care system, can access additional support beyond the age of 18 (please note the PRG did not make any specific recommendations on those that have experienced the care system – see section 1: introduction). The intention behind this proposal is to prevent homelessness before it occurs for 16 and 17 year olds, which will mean a better outcome for a young person than experiencing the trauma of homelessness. However, the proposal needs to be assessed in the wider context of the law surrounding the age of legal capacity.

The questions below attempt to address concerns about the intervention of children's services for 16 and 17 year olds and the unintended consequence of children feeling they have less choice about which services they are able to access. The policy intention is not to divert 16 and 17 year olds who present as homeless to an assessment by social work, or to establish a barrier to any rights to accommodation under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.

Questions

Q27. Do you think the proposal for 16 and 17 year olds would positively impact on the prevention of homelessness for young people?

Q28. Could there be any 'unintended consequences' for 16 and 17 year olds in taking this approach to legislation? If so, how can this best be addressed so that any new legislation improves outcomes for 16 and 17 year olds at risk of homelessness?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for Criminal Justice – Prisons, Court Services and Police Scotland

Prisons

  • PRG proposal: The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011 are amended to ensure that:
    • People entering prison are asked about their housing situation as soon as reasonably possible following admission.
    • If people in prison are likely to need assistance to find housing for when they leave prison, a referral is made as soon as possible to the local authority identified by the individual for homelessness assistance.
  • Where housing issues are identified, prisons work with partners including housing options and housing associations to address the issues.

It is proposed that by working with other partners, local authorities must ensure that

the service for prevention and alleviation of homelessness is designed to meet the needs of people leaving prison or youth detention accommodation, and anyone at risk of homelessness due to impending court proceedings. Relevant partners should include the Scottish Prison Service, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service and Community Justice Partnerships.

The PRG noted that in 2018/19, 1,822 (5%) homeless applications were recorded as having been from people leaving prison in 2018/19. However, it also points out that this may be an underestimate with more people leaving prison with arrangements in place which break down after a short period, resulting in homelessness. In recent years, the SHORE standards (Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone) have been co-developed by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and other key partners. Data sharing agreements have also been agreed between SPS and all Scottish local authorities which enable local authorities to maintain existing tenancies when someone enters prison and to make plans for suitable accommodation in advance of release.

The development of SHORE is the responsibility of both SPS and local authorities/housing bodies to deliver collectively (supported by Scottish Government and other stakeholders) and progress still needs to be made towards full and consistent application of the processes it describes.

The PRG sees this as supporting its recommendations for legislative change. These proposed recommendations on prisons should also be considered in parallel with the recommendation highlighted on pages 10-11 in relation to those leaving institutions. The intention behind the proposals is the need for co-ordination and consistency of service across the country between prisons and local authorities, recognising the challenges of prisons working across multiple different local authority homelessness services, and the importance of the location of accommodation for many people leaving prison. Consideration also needs to be given to the implications for the protection and rights of the victims of crime in this process.

Questions

Q29. Do you agree with the proposal to introduce new legal duties on prisons to ask about and work with partners to address housing issues to prevent homelessness?

Q30. How would a statutory duty on prisons to identify and work with partners on housing issues change existing practice already in place to prevent homelessness amongst those leaving prison?

Q31. What are the main challenges of introducing any new statutory duty on prisons to identify and work with partners on housing issues?

Q32. What changes to existing practice would local authorities have to make to ensure they meet the needs of those leaving prison??

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendation for Court Services

  • PRG proposal: Local Housing Options services work with the Courts service to ensure housing options advice is easily accessible within a court setting.

Stakeholder consultation by the PRG suggested that there is a lack of housing options advice available within court settings. There is a future aspiration to develop the SHORE standards to include sections on preventing homelessness on arrest and in court. The importance of this provision for those who have been trafficked has been highlighted, as without accommodation they may be more at risk of being placed in custody.

Question

Q33. Do you agree with the proposal that housing options advice should be available in court settings?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for Police Scotland

  • PRG proposal: Where there is a reasonable belief that someone may be homeless, police should ask about the individual's housing circumstances. Specific circumstances may be identified in appropriate regulations or guidance, including someone rough sleeping, cases of domestic abuse or household dispute leading to possible homelessness.
  • Where the police identify a risk of homelessness they should make a referral to the local authority (with a corresponding responsibility on the local authority to act on the referral).

The police may encounter people at risk of homelessness in range of situations, including during domestic abuse or neighbourhood disputes, as well as where people are likely to sleep rough that night. Support for a duty on police was expressed by police representatives at the criminal justice stakeholder group of the PRG (especially in conjunction with a duty on the local authority to respond).

The police may be involved upon arrest and/or through support within the community, where they are supporting victims or helping people in distress on the street. The approach to finding out a person's housing circumstances will be different in those different situations.

Question

Q34. Do you agree with the proposal to place a statutory duty on the police to ask about somebody's housing circumstances if there is 'reasonable belief' they may be homeless or at risk of homelessness?

Q35. How would a statutory duty on police to ask about somebody's housing circumstances, if there is 'reasonable belief' they may be homeless or at risk of homeless, work in practice?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for domestic abuse

  • PRG proposals: People at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic abuse should be able to access free legal aid in order to obtain an exclusion order.
  • The definition of abuse within homelessness legislation is expanded to cover both the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.
  • Assistance from homelessness services to prevent homelessness must include support and security measures to enable applicants to remain in their homes safely where this is their preference.
  • Homelessness prevention services should work with other partners to ensure they are able to meet the needs of people requiring housing assistance due to domestic abuse.
  • Local authorities support victims of domestic abuse to access exclusion orders.
  • When considering the suitability of accommodation offered to a perpetrator or victim of domestic abuse, consideration must be given to its proximity to the other party in the abuse.
  • Social landlords should put in place protocols to address housing issues relating to domestic abuse.

The PRG highlighted that a violent or abusive dispute is the biggest cause of homelessness for women in Scotland, and that figures may significantly underestimate the scale of homelessness caused by domestic abuse.

These recommendations are intended to be complementary to recent changes in law and policy including the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021, which when enacted, will give the courts a new power to impose Domestic Abuse Protection Orders. These can remove a suspected perpetrator of domestic abuse from a home of any tenure of a person at risk, and prohibit them from contacting them while the order is in effect. These also allow a social landlord to apply to the court to end a perpetrator's interest in a social housing tenancy or joint tenancy, thereby enabling the victim to remain in the family home where they wish to do so.

They are also intended to complement the implementation of the recommendations in the Improving Housing Outcomes for Women and Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse report, which have been accepted by the Scottish Government.

Questions

Q36. Do you agree that the set of proposed measures on domestic abuse are complementary to each other and consideration should be given to implementing them in full?

Q37. Do you have any comments about the implementation of any specific proposal made in relation to preventing homelessness as a result of domestic abuse, and is there anything missing from these proposals?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for a local authority duty to respond to referrals

  • PRG proposal: A local authority should accept a referral from a public body or landlord as a formal application, unless the individual states that they do not wish to make an application for assistance, or unless the local authority cannot contact the individual after making reasonable efforts.

The intention of this proposal is to reflect the "no wrong door" approach set out by HARSAG and in the subsequent Scottish Government/COSLA Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan (updated in October 2020), and in the consultation for a National Care Service. The issue of consent in relation to referrals by public bodies was considered by the PRG and by the Prevention Commission, with the Group suggesting, in accordance with the principles of choice and control, that consent should be sought where possible, but concluded that the issue of consent is one that is likely to vary depending on the circumstances and vulnerability of the individual concerned.

Questions

Q38. Do you agree with the proposal that there should be a statutory duty on a local authority to accept a referral from a public body to prevent homelessness, as part of legislative change that places a duty on public bodies to 'ask and act'?

Q39. If a statutory duty on local authorities to accept a referral from a public body to prevent homelessness was introduced, what would be the primary advantages and challenges compared to existing arrangements?

Q40. Do you have a view on the issue of an individual's consent in this process?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for joining-up services through strategic planning

  • PRG proposals: Community planning partners should set out and establish in Locality Plans the impact of homelessness, emerging issues and joint working to address this. A community planning statement should be included within the Local Housing Strategy.
  • Health and Social Care Partnerships should set out a clear statement of their contribution to preventing homelessness within the Local Housing Strategy.
  • The next iteration of the National Performance Framework has an emphasis on housing which enables people to live in it (their home) successfully.

The PRG highlighted that effective homelessness prevention requires services, as early as possible, to work together and plan strategically to identify need and ensure structures and arrangements are in place to address issues which may eventually lead to homelessness. The PRG noted that a key driver of local outcomes is the National Performance Framework (NPF). However, whilst the PRG acknowledged the increased focus on homelessness as a result of HARSAG, they stated, homelessness has not had the strategic, cross-cutting focus provided by the NPF.

Question

Q41. Should the requirements for joining-up services through strategic planning to prevent homelessness be included in legislation or guidance?

Q42. Are there any other requirements for joining-up services through strategic planning that should be considered?

Data Sharing and Data Protection

Question

Q43. What do you think the implications are of increased joint working to prevent homelessness between public bodies on data sharing and data protection?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for social landlords

  • PRG proposal: Where a social landlord identifies circumstances which may lead to a risk of homelessness, including:
    • Rent arrears or other financial difficulty which may give rise to risk of homelessness (i.e. before difficulties have led to impending homelessness, such as eviction action or abandonment).
    • Tenant behaviour or action which may give rise to risk of homelessness.
    • Other circumstances, including domestic abuse, or court proceedings, for example, relating to criminal charges, which may give rise to a loss of accommodation due to remand or imprisonment.

That the social landlord must take relevant reasonable steps to mitigate that risk. Reasonable steps would include:

  • Housing management practices to sustain tenancies.
  • Engaging with the tenant to address relevant financial circumstances.
  • Engaging the tenant to address behaviour.
  • Putting in place protocols to address relevant circumstances and mitigate risk of homelessness at an early stage, including protocols relating to domestic abuse.
  • Where tenants face court proceedings.

The PRG recognised that social landlords are well placed to carry out work which prevents homelessness and that much of existing good tenancy management practice may already serve to achieve this, especially work to address rent arrears and antisocial behaviour. Legislative pre-action requirements aimed at providing further protection for tenants facing eviction for rent arrears have been in place since 2012 (Section 14 and 14A of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001).

The intention behind this proposal is to formalise responsibilities to prevent homelessness as duties so that social landlords take action within their powers to identify and mitigate the risk of homelessness as early as possible, including the separate risks resulting from rent arrears, neighbour and relationship concerns, domestic abuse and risk to tenancy due to impending court action.

Questions

Q44. Do you agree with the new legislative duties to ensure social landlords take specified reasonable steps to prevent homelessness where a risk is identified?

Q45. Are there any other reasonable steps apart from those listed that a social landlord should be legally obliged to take to prevent homelessness?

Q46. Do you agree with the proposal to legislate for the establishment of protocols by social landlords in relation to domestic abuse?

Q47. Do you agree with the proposal to legislate for the establishment of protocols by social landlords in relation to where tenants face court proceedings?

  • PRG proposal: If the landlord considers the risk of homelessness for a tenant to require assistance beyond their powers, including where there is a growing risk of eviction, then they should notify the local authority as early as possible that there is a risk of homelessness.

This is similar to existing provisions (the Section 11 duty of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003, which states that landlords must notify a local authority where the landlord raises proceedings for possession. However, the intention of the proposal is to ensure that the referral is as far upstream, targeted and as preventative as possible, and to have a clear process in place between the social landlord and the local authority, so that a crisis point is avoided and no one is evicted from social housing without somewhere to stay that night.

Questions

Q48. Given that landlords are already expected to notify local authorities of raising proceedings for possession, do you agree with a new legislative provision to ensure it happens earlier than under current arrangements?

Q49. What further statutory measures beyond the existing Section 11 provision are needed so landlords notify and work with local authorities as soon as possible to prevent homelessness?

Q50. At how early a stage should a landlord be expected to notify a local authority about the risk of homelessness?

Prevention Review Group proposed recommendations for private landlords

  • PRG proposal: The pre-action requirements on private landlords in cases of rent arrears which were created in the emergency coronavirus legislation to provide information and put in place support for tenants in rent arrears should be made permanent.
  • If the landlord agrees with tenants as part of the conversation around the pre-action protocol, or in any other circumstances, the landlord may make a homelessness prevention referral to the local authority, where they are concerned that there may be an emerging risk of homelessness. A local authority must respond to a referral from a private landlord about a possible case of homelessness.

The intention behind these proposals is to prevent homelessness as much as possible from the Private Rented Sector (PRS) and that the PRS will be more widely used, where appropriate, to house people at risk of homelessness.

Please note that a consultation on a draft Rented Sector Strategy – A New Deal for Tenants is being launched in December 2021 and will run until April 2022. This will include questions related to improving accessibility, affordability and standards across the whole rented sector. The current Coronavirus Recovery Bill also contains proposals on pre-action requirements.

Questions

Q51. Do you agree with the proposal to make pre-action requirements on private landlords in cases of rent arrears permanent in legislation?

Q52. How might a new legislative duty on local authorities to respond to referrals to prevent homelessness from private landlords work in practice?

Q53. What sort of support do you think private landlords may need to ensure they meet this requirement?

  • PRG proposal: If a local authority is assisting a person threatened with homelessness as a result of pending eviction from a private tenancy, the local authority should have a power to request that the First-tier Tribunal delay execution of an eviction order, proceeding where a landlord has failed to co-operate.

Question

Q54. Do you agree with the proposal that a local authority should have a power to request a delay to eviction to allow time to secure a positive outcome for the tenant?

  • PRG proposal: The homelessness advice and assistance is designed to meet the needs of people living in and seeking to access the PRS.

The PRG indicates that, in practice, homelessness advice and assistance provided by local authorities in relation to the PRS would include PRS access schemes, landlord liaison, rent deposit guarantee schemes and a focus on tenancy sustainment and prevention.

Question

Q55. The Prevention Review Group propose that the homelessness advice and assistance is designed to meet the needs of people living in and seeking to access the private rented sector. Do you agree with this proposal?

Q56. How would a specific legislative duty on local authorities to provide homelessness advice and assistance relating to living in and/or accessing the private rented sector work in practice?


Contact

Email: Homelessness_External_Mail@gov.scot