Through their RRTPs, local authorities aim to transform the use of temporary accommodation to both reduce the use of temporary accommodation for homeless households and the length of stay. It also means a change in the type of accommodation used, with a move away from unsuitable accommodation such as hostels and B&Bs in favour of dispersed, self-contained properties in communities.
Over the course of this reporting year, local authorities have been working against a backdrop of extreme challenges never before experienced in the shape of both a global pandemic and Brexit.
Whilst the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions saw a decline in the number of homelessness applications, the demand for temporary accommodation increased significantly. The impact on temporary accommodation meant that many of the measures being implemented or planned to reduce or transform temporary accommodation use had to be temporarily abandoned or suspended in order to meet the many challenges of the pandemic and the statutory duty to provide accommodation. However, it should be noted that while the pandemic interrupted implementation of some planned activity by local authorities, there was a real sense that RRTPs were an important factor in informing responses to the pandemic.
This section is broken down into challenges that local authorities have faced over the period as well as showing what was put in place to continue implementation of their RRTP around temporary accommodation and to mitigate the unprecedented challenges.
The pandemic led to large scale disruption across council services including staff absences and vacancies, particularly during the first half of 2020/21. During this period, the most prominent challenge faced was securing permanent rehousing outcomes for all statutory homelessness cases. The subsequent slowdown in throughput during this period impacted greatly on being able to access settled accommodation, placing increased strain on resources and temporary accommodation capacity. Challenges local authorities faced during this time included:
- Properties from temporary accommodation stock were held to support anyone who needed to self-isolate and were not in a position to do so in their own home. Councils had to increase the number of temporary accommodation units available, at least in the short term.
- This was especially prevalent in areas where accommodation was required for those who had high numbers of people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). Accommodating people with NRPF was permitted as a public health response, not as a relaxing of homelessness legislation.
- Some areas saw an increase in B&B/hotel usage and some reported breaches of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order (UAO) as a result of not being able to move people on from temporary accommodation. There was also a slowdown in relets in temporary accommodation due to Covid-19 protocol restrictions on staff.
- Covid-19 restrictions on repair staff, as well as issues around the supply of materials for repairs, were responsible for a longer turnaround on voids for many authorities. Delays in the Scottish Welfare Fund process due to Covid-19 was also cited as adding to delays.
- A combination of the pandemic and Brexit was also an issue in the loss and recruitment of staff, with local authorities experiencing problems getting staff in place for new and existing posts.
- Widely, it was recognised that the pandemic had a knock-on effect on other areas within council RRTPs with delays or suspension of planned work, such as allocation reviews and new build developments.
- Although not appearing to be an issue experienced across the board, some local authorities noted an increase in refusals of offers, contributing to time spent in temporary accommodation and the movement of people through the system.
- All of these issues, including the temporary suspension of allocations during the first lockdown, impacted negatively on throughput from temporary accommodation to permanent accommodation. This led to many authorities experiencing significantly increased numbers being housed in temporary accommodation and increases in the lengths of time spent in temporary accommodation.
- In effect, although Covid-19 measures, including households being advised to remain at home and a ban on evictions, saw the number of homelessness applications, those assessed as homeless and homelessness cases that closed decreasing, the number of households in temporary accommodation and open applications increased.
Extracts from individual RRTPs:
- Figures remain high at over 400 households in temporary accommodation each week due to lack of flow through the housing system and inability to move homeless households into permanent accommodation.
- We brought an additional 114 properties into our temporary accommodation portfolio from our mainstream pool to avoid the use of unsuitable accommodation.
- Despite the lowest recorded demand for temporary accommodation since 2015/16, with all new mainstream lets suspended for several months during the first lockdown, the backlog of households in temporary accommodation continued to grow.
- Restrictions continue to cause significant delays to void turnaround times and new build developments are also significantly delayed.
- B&B had not been used for a number of years. We had to increase stock to a peak of 257 properties by June 2020 and use B&B accommodation during the early stages of the pandemic.
- The temporary accommodation targets need to be revised in light of the pandemic response and the additional temporary accommodation acquired.
- Due to the pandemic, the RRTP target of 25 weeks maximum period of time in all temporary accommodation in year 2 was not met, with about 31% of households whose cases closed in 2020/21 spending more than 6 months in temporary accommodation.
- Work to develop a Temporary Accommodation Strategic Plan (TASP) was delayed as a result of the focus on meeting immediate needs related to the pandemic.
- The Housing Support and Accommodation Service was affected by the pandemic and new ways of working had to be developed.
- Due to the increase in temporary accommodation demand, the progress in reducing the overall stock of temporary accommodation is delayed and it is anticipated that no further progress can be made until the backlog of those waiting a permanent housing solution is sufficiently reduced.
- While progress was made in reducing B&B usage before the pandemic, as a direct result of the impact of the pandemic and the lower levels of social rented lets available than expected, there has been a need to use additional emergency accommodation for much of 2020/21. From being at nil use of B&B accommodation in May 2020, this increased to 146 at 31st March 2021.
The housing options hubs, which came to the fore of support for local authorities to share challenges and learning, met fortnightly throughout the full first year of the pandemic. Local authorities continued, where possible, to take forward their rapid rehousing work around temporary accommodation. What follows is an overview of some of the work progressed by local authorities.
Unsuitable temporary accommodation
The relatively small number of local authorities still using hostel and B&B accommodation found the pandemic impacted on their plans for moving away from these types of temporary accommodation. However, despite the challenges we still saw some progress in this area.
In East Ayrshire, at the onset of Covid-19, all homelessness applicants within the council’s St Andrews Court Hostel were relocated to self-contained temporary furnished accommodation. Subsequently, refurbishment is taking place on the St Andrews Court Hostel, with plans to introduce a rapid access model of accommodation, whereby service users access essential support during a very short stay before transitioning to their own settled accommodation. Key partners in service delivery include the universal credit support team, health and homelessness nurse service and addiction services.
In Highland, a principal Housing Officer was recruited in March 2021, to work on the ending of B&B usage in the area as well as delivering the operational changes for the shared temporary accommodation team. Key performances of this team will look at ensuring there are no breaches of the UAO and reducing time in temporary accommodation.
Renfrewshire Council established an in-house ‘matching and resettlement team’ to enable homeless applicants to better transition from temporary to settled accommodation during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. The council reported that from December 2020 onwards, B&B accommodation was no longer used as a direct result of the positive impact of this new dedicated team.
Transforming temporary accommodation
Flipping, or converting, temporary accommodation to a permanent let
This practice was adopted to varying degrees by most local authorities during 2020/21. While the principle of flipping is similar across the country, some authorities may differ in terms of the process used.
Moray Council described the process they use:
The flipping process in Moray is fairly simple. A group consisting of Homeless Assessment officers, Temporary Accommodation staff and Housing Support staff meet fortnightly to discuss each applicant who is currently in our temporary accommodation. This group will identify if the applicant is appropriately housed (as per our allocation policy) and is content living there. They will also consider the amount of time that the property has previously been used as temporary accommodation. If the applicant and property are a match, then we will begin the process which is really just handing the property back to our Area Housing Teams and making a formal offer to the tenant. To this date, all the flips we have made have been to properties that have been in our temporary accommodation stock for a considerable period, as has the furniture, so we have allowed the tenant to keep the furniture if they wish.
West Dunbartonshire Council spent £80,000 of RRTP funding in 2020/21 to support a conversion programme of temporary accommodation to Scottish Secure Tenancies, reducing the number of transitions and improving tenancy sustainment rates for homeless households, which has proved popular with tenants. In 2020/21, there were 32 conversions. However, the council notes the impact of Covid-19 and the increase in demand for all forms of temporary accommodation on their service provision in 2020/21. The council plans to mainstream this programme in 2021/22.
Dundee City Council reconfigured nine individual flats suitable for family accommodation situated within a staffed accommodation block. This was previously used as direct access, temporary accommodation and has now been reconfigured as family supported accommodation. In partnership with Action for Children, Hillcrest Homes and the council’s Children and Families Service, on-site support is now provided in accommodation for nine families.
In Midlothian Council, the Emergency Accommodation for Families project provides emergency accommodation to homeless households with either dependent children or a pregnant person in the household. A block of eight tenement flats provides self-contained emergency accommodation, with on-site concierge service, removing the need for this group to be placed in unsuitable accommodation.
Shared tenancy model
In 2020/21, Highland Council established a Shared Temporary Furnished Accommodation team. Progress to date includes:
- 26 properties established with a capacity of 52 clients;
- Positive response from service users and an affordable model, average weekly rent of £64 each;
- Positive improvements in tenancy related behaviour with only five neighbour complaints of anti-social behaviour in these properties;
- Target for 2021/22 is an additional 50 units; and
- It is intended that the team will be mainstreamed over the next two financial years once scaled up. A full cost recovery model is in place.
The City of Edinburgh Council started a home share model, predominately where four or five people live together. A pilot has been running since 2019 across six properties and has 26 residents:
- Criteria is for people aged 30+ who are working with no support needs;
- A pathway has now been put in place for women and children experiencing domestic abuse to access home share properties with support provided to increase choice of where to live; and
- A procurement exercise to increase the number of properties was due to start in 2020, but is now underway in 2021/22, as part of the expansion of the scheme.
There are other local authorities looking at the possibilities around shared accommodation models going forward:
- Aberdeen City, which intends to set up and test two flats that will be converted to a shared tenancy model.
- East Lothian Council is recruiting an Accommodation Officer, which is an additional temporary post that will focus on developing shared accommodation.
Resettlement Support Service
This service, which began with two resettlement officers and has since been expanded, was established by West Lothian Council in May 2020 to support people to move quickly from temporary to permanent accommodation and to provide them the best opportunity to successfully sustain those tenancies. The aim of the service is to assist and support in all aspects of moving to a mainstream tenancy, providing priority applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund, utility support, liaising with internal and external agencies and signposting to all local services. The service aims to increase the throughput of temporary accommodation by reducing the number of days that it takes for homeless applicants to terminate their temporary accommodation once they are permanently housed.
Argyll and Bute Council cited its Decoration Project as being a crucial element during 2020/21 in helping new tenants who were in temporary accommodation move timeously to their new home, thereby freeing up suitable temporary accommodation for those who were in B&B. The Decoration Project’s aim is to ensure that properties are decorated to a good standard and are ready for occupation. The range of services offered include decoration of the property by the RSL, match funding provided by the RSL for the tenant to decorate themselves and clients being supported to make appropriate claims for assistance for household ‘white goods’. The council reported that uptake of the decoration fund during 2020/21 was good, with 38 new tenants assisted at a spend of £25,172. It also reported that, to date, all tenancies that received funds from its Decoration Project have been sustained successfully.
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