Publication - Guidance

Prevention of Homelessness Guidance

Published: 10 Jun 2009

Statutory guidance for local authorities on preventing homelessness

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

Prevention of Homelessness Guidance
Particular Groups

41 page PDF

556.7 kB

Particular Groups

93. Pre-crisis activity and working with high risk groups is an area where local authorities and their partners should inform themselves on the likely needs of the following high risk groups in their areas and act proactively and early to ensure that people in identified groups are most effectively targeted. It will be helpful to refer to the section on homelessness risk factors to ensure a good understanding of the inter-relationship between personal and housing instability risk factors and what can be done to help mitigate those risks:

Children and Young People

94. The child-centred approach set out in Getting it right for every child promotes a shared approach to meeting the needs of all children and young people. It builds from universal services through existing policies, strategies, legislation and practice. It expects anyone working with a child to identify and plan action to address the needs and risks faced by the child in a way which looks at the child as a whole and builds solutions with and around children and families. Similar themes are highlighted in the Early Years Framework, which was developed to ensure a strong focus on what needs to be done to ensure that all children, including the most vulnerable, get the best start in life. The Scottish Government recently published draft guidance on Meeting the Best Interests of Children Facing Homelessness and this has relevant information for housing providers considering homelessness prevention.

95. The list of identified homelessness risk factors highlights significant risk factors for children and young people, which can be identified early and certainly before they reach 16 years of age. Youth homelessness risks can and should be considered differently and separately from homelessness in later life. This is because there are opportunities for breaking the cycle of homelessness by intervening much earlier to prevent it from ever occurring. Within the context of work with children and families, particularly work to support and protect children and where risks are assessed and managed, it will be beneficial to also incorporate an assessment of homelessness risk.

96. In particular, evidence of children "missing school", "running away" and experiencing childhood domestic and sexual abuse have been shown to lead directly to homelessness either as a young person or adult. See Youth homelessness in the UK 13 Interventions at the earliest possible stage to support children and young people and their families should incorporate information likely to help children and their families avoid homelessness in the future.

97. Intervention in the form of family mediation has been found to be particularly helpful in respect of young teenagers and there are examples of practice where earlier intervention led to successful outcomes for young people and their parents.

Amber is a mediation service for 14 - 24 year olds which works to prevent homelessness by mediating between young people and their families. It is run by Edinburgh Cyrenians, in partnership with Sacro, and was until recently funded by the City of Edinburgh Council. Amber opened up referrals to 14-16 year olds when it recognised the value in working with young people at an early stage before problems have escalated. Amber works with young people who are experiencing conflict within their home or have already left home but are interested in mending broken relationships. Referrals tend to be from housing and homeless services, social work, schools, health, policy, voluntary organisations working with young people and self referrals. The project will also offer advice, support and signposting as appropriate to the young person's situation. Outcomes include young people being able to remain at home, but may also be young people moving out with the support of their families or moving back into the family home. Contact: Amber Project Manager,

98. Practical support can also be offered to families where poverty creates additional strain on relationships that can cause housing crisis, e.g. in the form of short-term financial assistance to cover housing costs ( DHPs) but consideration can also be given to supporting families in the form of furniture packs, additional beds and bedding or white goods to alleviate difficulties in laundering clothes or storing and cooking nutritious food. The Scottish Government funds the post of Furniture Re-use Co-ordinator and the post is located within Community Recycling Network for Scotland. The co-ordinator can be contacted at: .

Looked After Children, Young People and Care Leavers

99. Local authorities have particular responsibilities for all looked after children, young people and care leavers as the Corporate Parent. This covers those looked after at home and those looked after away from home. Corporate parenting means the formal and local partnerships needed between all local authority departments and services, and associated agencies, who are responsible for working together to meet the needs of looked after children, young people and care leavers. These Are Our Bairns, a guide for community planning partnerships on being a good corporate parent, was published by the Scottish Government in 2008 14 . In respect of prevention of homelessness, local authorities and partner agencies will wish to particularly consider chapters in this document on Social Work, Health and Housing Services. However, other sections are also relevant.

100. In addition local authorities have clear legal responsibilities both whilst children and young people are looked after and when a specific group of older young people leave the looked after system. Supporting Young People Leaving Care in Scotland Regulations and Guidance provides further information on these responsibilities. Care leavers should never leave the looked after system without careful advance joint planning to ensure that they do not enter the homelessness system at all. Appropriate accommodation and any required support should be in place prior to any looked after child leaving care.

101. Thereafter, it will be important to maintain regular and proportionate contact with young people who have left the looked after system. Local authorities should encourage the continuance of a joint multi-agency approach to supporting and sustaining young people in their accommodation and agencies could agree in advance the likely signals that indicate a possible tenancy failure.

102. Whilst responsibilities are towards children and young people, local authorities will also want to consider the needs of children's families both in respect of prevention activities and in resettlement activities. This approach can ensure stability of accommodation and also support the plans for supporting the child/young person, regardless of where that child/young person is looked after and what the future plans are. For example, for a child looked after at home with complex needs the loss of family accommodation will not support positive outcomes for that child.

103. It is also vitally important to consider the specific needs of a small but significant number of looked after children, young people and care leavers who present a risk of serious harm to themselves and others. Their care is particularly challenging to manage and can present significant issues for the corporate parent, for example when identifying suitable accommodation for a young person making the transition to more independent living. Particularly in these circumstances, multi-agency risk assessment and risk management is essential. Local authorities and other agencies will want to consider the following documents: National Accommodation Strategy for Young People Displaying Sexually Harmful Behaviour and Getting it right for children and young people who present a risk of serious harm: Meeting Need, Managing Risk and Achieving Outcomes.

Armed Forces

104. Armed Forces personnel can be vulnerable to homelessness at the point of discharge from the Services but also at later points in their housing careers as a consequence of poor health or disability. The Ministry of Defence ( MOD) issues a Certificate of Cessation of Entitlement to Occupy Service Living Accommodation in the case of all service personnel approaching their date of discharge from the Services. The certificate is usually issued 6 months before discharge. Social landlords should not insist upon a court order for possession, or a Certificate of Cessation to establish that entitlement to occupy has ended. Where official documentation is provided, local authorities should take advantage of the six-month period of notice of discharge to ensure that service personnel receive timely and comprehensive advice of the housing options available to them when they leave the Armed Forces. A recent circular was issued to all social landlords providing guidance on meeting the needs of ex-Service personnel and their families and also provides information about other housing options and support 15 .

Hospital Discharge

105. Local authorities will already have a range of local planning arrangements with their partners in health services to ensure that delays in discharge arrangements are minimised where possible. This is particularly the case where people are moving into the community following a long stay in hospital. Nevertheless there are likely to be occasions where people are detained in hospital as a result of unsuitable accommodation options in the community. In cases where an identified or existing property could be made more suitable with alteration, partners should work together closely to ensure that any necessary adaptations or other aids are provided as quickly as possible.

106. People who are homeless at the point of admission to hospital, either on a planned or emergency basis, should never be discharged from hospital without referral to appropriate services in the community. Specific discharge protocols may need to be developed with a range of service providers in the community, including addictions, mental health and housing services.

Leaving Prison

107. Prisoners are a group at significant risk of homelessness following a custodial sentence and the lack of appropriate accommodation on release can increase the risk of reoffending. The types of housing issues that prisoners will present will vary, may be complex and will therefore require a range of appropriate responses. In order to meet these demands and comply with the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers, staff delivering advice and advocacy services will be conversant with, amongst other things, housing and homelessness legislation, the welfare benefits system, the prison system and court processes, etc. Additionally, staff will have a mix of skills which cover interviewing, assessment, planning and evaluation. Staff experience of dealing with complex situations, multi-agency working and offenders would clearly be advantageous.

108. There would be benefits (for the prisoner, for the agencies concerned and for the wider public) in establishing clear protocols for sharing information between housing advice services, the Scottish Prison Service ( SPS), local authority housing providers/registered social landlords and Community Justice Authorities ( CJAs). Such protocols not only provide clarity about the procedures and context for appropriate information sharing, but they also assist the assessment and pre-release planning processes. This is of benefit to the prisoner because it should allow his/her problem to be addressed more speedily and fully. Ultimately it is also of benefit to the wider community inasmuch as the successful reintegration of the prisoner into the community has been shown to reduce the risk of further offending.

109. In order to support responsible authorities to meet the requirements of the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Act 2005 - to establish joint arrangements for assessing the risk of sex offenders and to support the wider 'duty to co-operate' on registered social landlords - the Scottish Government has developed the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA) model and national guidance to inform the establishment and implementation of these duties.

110. MAPPA provides the framework, for the police, local authorities, the Scottish Prison Service and the Health Service to work together and with other agencies in assessing and managing risk. The approach is based on assessment of the risk of harm posed to the community and the allocation of resources to match the level of risk. The MAPPA model and the guidance is therefore designed to deliver a consistent approach across the country to the management of high risk offenders in the community, allowing early identification of those high risk offenders who must be managed on a multi-agency basis, the sharing of relevant information involved in assessment of risk and the management of the risk posed.

111. Alongside the MAPPA, the Scottish Government also published a National Accommodation Strategy for Sex Offenders ( NASSO ) in March 2007. This strategy was developed following the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Sex Offending, "Reducing the Risk: Improving the Response to Sex Offending" (the Cosgrove report) in 2001. This report called on the then Scottish Executive, Scottish Homes, local authorities and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations ( SFHA) to develop a National Accommodation Strategy to assist the management of sex offenders in the community.

People with Multiple and Complex Needs

112. A report commissioned by the Scottish Executive and prepared by Ann Rosengard Associates 16 highlighted the needs of people with multiple and complex needs. The term 'Multiple and Complex Needs' has various definitions, many of which are helpfully explored in the report. For the purposes of this guidance the term can reasonably be applied to people who are vulnerable to homelessness for a range of reasons including substance misuse issues, mental ill health and other combinations of disadvantage. The report makes a number of observations and recommendations. Key observations on accessing and experience of services, which are particularly pertinent for homelessness prevention activity are that:

  • Current advice services tend to treat problems in isolation; advice can be hard to access and referral mechanisms inefficient;
  • Many people with multiple and complex needs do not gain access to the services they need or end up in inappropriate services;
  • People with multiple and complex needs may be excluded from services because of criteria governing service use ( e.g. age restrictions);
  • Some targets undermine the will to work with clients with multiple and complex needs;
  • People with 'multiple needs' may be defined out or excluded from services for organisational reasons, e.g. their needs are assessed as 'too complex or challenging' for the service(s) in question;
  • Some feel staff attitudes are insensitive and unhelpful which prevents trust; and
  • A 'silo mentality' works against co-ordination of support and risks people receiving inappropriate services with poor outcomes.

113. The range of service responses that were valued by people with multiple and complex needs were broadly similar to those valued by other service users and they fit particularly well with the early intervention approach recommended in this guidance:

  • Targeted and outreach information in accessible formats;
  • Single access points and 'one stop approaches';
  • Services that address 'whole person' needs and do so in partnership;
  • Personalised and person-centred service responses;
  • Co-ordinated and integrated assessments;
  • Outreach services that seek out and stick with 'hard to reach' groups; and
  • Partnerships and agencies developing strategies to target improved responses to people with multiple and/or complex needs.

114. Homelessness prevention for people assessed as having multiple and complex needs requires an effective mainstream service response, from a range of relevant agencies, working collectively to tackle the issues. As part of any needs assessment process, the prevention of homelessness should be included as a stated aim for the person concerned.

Domestic Abuse

115. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling all forms of violence and recognises the particular and prevalent issue of violence against women. Domestic abuse continues to blight the lives of women and children and the added difficulties and trauma associated with homelessness further compound their disadvantage. Multi-agency joint action is required at a local level to ensure the needs of those affected by domestic abuse and homelessness are tackled effectively.

116. The National Strategy to Address Domestic Abuse in Scotland (2002) outlined the key actions required to begin to tackle the problem and provided the gendered definition of domestic abuse used by the Scottish Government today, which states:

"Domestic abuse (as gender-based abuse), can be perpetrated by partners or ex-partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behaviour), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse (such as threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, withholding money and other types of controlling behaviour such as isolation from family or friends)".

117. Despite many excellent policy and practical initiatives over the past decade, domestic abuse remains a serious, widespread and pervasive social problem. A recent UNICEF report estimated that one million children UK wide are affected by domestic abuse. The police recorded 45,796 incidents of domestic abuse in 2005-06. Of these incidents, 87% involved a male perpetrator and female victim.

118. Good practice in responding to domestic abuse comes about when agencies ensure they have well trained and sensitive staff and this is most likely to be achieved when they receive awareness training and guidance on the causes and impacts of domestic abuse. Joint multi-agency training is viewed as particularly helpful in understanding the effects of domestic abuse. General awareness raising can also assist in addressing some of the myths associated with domestic abuse and in tackling attitudinal issues affecting service provision.

119. Scottish Women's Aid worked with the SFHA to produce a guide for RSL staff on dealing with domestic abuse and this is available to members on the SFHA web site.

120. In terms of homelessness prevention, social landlords should review, and where necessary, amend allocation and transfer policies to ensure they meet good practice and consider if rent arrears and repairs procedures are unfairly penalising women affected by domestic abuse issues. More broadly, they should work closely with other relevant agencies to develop appropriate services.

In North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences ( MARACs), bring together a wide range of agencies to discuss local cases and share knowledge and information about the victims and the perpetrators. The important aspect of the process is to agree the definitions of risk for the women concerned and to act accordingly.

121. In 2008, the Scottish Government launched the Domestic Abuse Delivery Plan for Children and Young People. The plan outlines 13 separate priority actions based on the broad themes of Protection, Provision, Prevention and Participation. Priority 8 in the plan is to "Reduce the risk to women and children of becoming homeless as a consequence of domestic abuse and ensure, whenever necessary, they are supported to move into safe and suitable accommodation without facing additional emotional, economic or social disadvantage".

Another project funded by the HPIF was developed by the City of Edinburgh Council to assist in preventing homelessness for vulnerable women and children who are at risk of domestic abuse. Called the Safe as Houses project, it was broadly based on advice, support and practical safety measures and adaptations to their existing accommodation. The project was developed as part of an advice-led approach to homelessness prevention in the city and by using the housing options interview approach, the project was keen to ensure that it shouldn't be seen as a deterrent to presenting as homeless.

122. Additionally, local authorities and RSLs will wish to liaise with specialist support agencies like local Women's Aid groups to ensure that women are able to access appropriate legal advice and that they have support to engage with it to seek appropriate legal remedies. Following an appropriate risk assessment it may also be helpful to explore programmes for installing security features in the current home, providing mobile phones and other forms of assistive technology to support external security.

123. Good practice principles for engaging with women affected by domestic abuse should lead to the development of guidance for staff on, e.g. interviewing techniques, dos and don'ts, and an emphasis on sensitivity and confidentiality. It is likely also to be helpful in cases of domestic abuse to have a clause in the Allocation Policy for housing the perpetrator of the abuse if they apply for re-housing.


124. People with addictions and/or substance misuse issues are likely to require a range of support services to help prevent homelessness and aid tenancy sustainment. The Scottish Government has recently published its strategy for dealing with substance misuse called The Road to Recovery. It will be helpful also to look at information collated in the recent report from Audit Scotland called Drug and alcohol services in Scotland, 2009. In 2008, the Scottish Government published a report providing evidence from an international review of services for substance misuse and homelessness. The report provides information of use when planning accommodation and support services for people affected by substance misuse issues 17 .

Mental Health

125. People with mental health problems ranging from and including people with mild to moderate mental health conditions such as depressive illness to people diagnosed with personality disorder, are prone to homelessness. Information on a range of services and publications about mental health issues is available on the web site. Of particular interest is the Resource Paper for Community Health Partnerships, Promoting mental health Preventing common mental health problems.

Family Break-ups

126. People who are at risk of relationship break-ups and also subsequently losing their accommodation should be offered advice and information about the range of housing options available to them. Families can be helped through mediation as seen from the Amber example and it would be helpful to contact Relationships Scotland to discuss alternative local services that can assist. Mediation is only really likely to keep a family together if introduced at an early stage and in the case of a potential break-up between parents and children could be introduced through the involvement of Education or Social Work.

North Ayrshire Council has a policy of responding to all homeless applications from young people aged 16 and 17 by visiting the family home on the day of presentation to discuss the circumstances with parents or carers. The main objective is to reunite young people with their families as a preferred option but there is recognition of some of the potential difficulties with this, including the risk of abuse etc. In the longer term a range of services can be offered including mediation and support for the family. During an inspection of the council's homelessness services, the Scottish Housing Regulator noted the initiative as an example of positive practice in the final report. For further information contact:


127. An asylum seekers is a person who has made an application to the UK Government for protection and who is waiting for a decision on their application. Asylum seekers are persons subject to immigration control with temporary admission but not leave to enter or remain in the UK. While they await a decision on their claim they may receive financial support and accommodation from the UK Border Agency 18 . An asylum seeker's application for asylum is assessed by the UK Border Agency and if he or she meets the criteria set out in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees, the asylum seeker will be recognised as a refugee and granted refugee status. In some circumstances the asylum seekers may be granted a form of 'subsidiary protection' and status, either Humanitarian Protection or Discretionary Leave. The asylum seeker may also be granted status outside of the immigration rules.

128. Broadly speaking, refugees and those granted other forms of status above are eligible for mainstream benefits and support including homelessness assistance from a Scottish local authority. Local authorities' duties to asylum seekers, who are subject to immigration control, are complex - chapter 13 of the Code provides further information. This section deals with those granted refugee status and those granted other forms of protection status. For the purposes of this guidance they are referred to as refugees.

129. Refugees display multiple indicators of homelessness risk through their personal circumstances and lack many of the resilience measures which can mitigate against these risks. For example:

  • Many are likely to have experienced persecution, torture or trauma in their country of origin or severe hardship in their efforts to reach the UK. As a result many may have medical, community care or mental health needs and a fear or authority;
  • As a result of their flight many will have no personal savings or supportive friends and family in Scotland. In addition as an asylum seeker they are not allowed to access the labour market and thus whilst in the asylum process will have accrued no savings;
  • English language may be a major barrier as well as knowledge of their rights and entitlements in the UK, especially if the refugee has recently arrived; and
  • Refugees may have experiences of feeling unsafe in the area they were living during their asylum claim and have experienced harassment.

130. Refugees are likely to be most vulnerable to homeless at the point of receiving a positive decision on their asylum claim when the support and accommodation provided by the UK Border Agency is terminated after 28 days. At this point refugees will have to access accommodation, enter the labour market and make any benefit claims. Since 2007 and the inception of the UK Border Agency's New Asylum Model initial decisions on asylum claims have been made much faster, in some instances in less than 1 month of arrival in the UK. As a result, refugees will have had little time to learn about their new environment or develop support mechanisms in Scotland, and have little understanding about their rights and housing options.

131. A report by Heriot Watt University commissioned by the Scottish Refugee Council and Access Apna Ghar Housing Association 19 highlights the issues that refugees in Scotland face in accessing permanent accommodation as well as sustaining tenancies. It makes a number of recommendations to instigate particular measures to prevent homelessness amongst refugees in Scotland. These include:

  • Improved and continued multi-agency working to ensure that refugees do not become homeless during the 28 day transition period when they are granted status;
  • Less prolonged stays in temporary accommodation;
  • Impartial, specialist advice to assist newly-recognised refugees in accessing appropriate accommodation;
  • As part of a needs assessment, consultation with refugees on their preferences for areas, including perceived safety from racial harassment; whether they would like to be accommodated with other refugees, with others from their country or origin or away from them; and close to places of work and worship;
  • Home-based tenancy sustainment services that are tailored to meet the complex needs of new refugees; and
  • Training staff dealing with applications from refugees in refugee issues to ensure responsiveness to the needs of households, including with respect to their duties in addressing racial harassment.

132. The Scottish Refugee Council provides specialist and independent housing advice to refugees: Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow Homelessness Partnership and Glasgow Housing Association produced a Housing Information and Advice Pack in 2006.