We will work with social landlords to deliver a new programme of stock management.
Recommendations six, seven and eight made by the Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group relate to maximising use of existing housing stock to increase options for people to move to a permanent home. The group suggests that local authorities use various tools – increased allocations to homeless households, flipping, bringing empty homes into use and use of the private rented sector – to meet the need for affordable homes.
We must act to maximise the contribution of existing affordable homes to increase housing options for homeless households. The Scottish Government will support local authorities and registered social landlords with a range of approaches to local housing stock management, including large scale flipping of tenancies, effective void management and greater allocations of social homes to homeless households. We will also continue to ensure a strong focus on bringing empty homes back into use to increase the supply of available affordable housing.
Starting with the areas facing the greatest pressures in temporary accommodation, we will work with key partners, including local authority and housing association representatives, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO), the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the Scottish Housing Regulator, to agree the specifics of our collective response to progress this action.
Flipping tenancies from temporary to permanent accommodation
We know that many local authorities already look for opportunities to convert or ‘flip’ temporary accommodation to a permanent home to reduce transitions for homeless households. Flipping is an effective measure to increase the number of larger social homes. Wherever the property is in the right location, and of the right size and type to meet the household’s requirements, we support and endorse this approach. In recognition that greater use of flipping could help to reduce the length of time households spend in temporary accommodation, we will support social landlords to increase the frequency of this practice.
By the end of this year, we will have worked with COSLA, ALACHO and the SFHA to develop national guidance to help maximise the impact of effective stock management and to support good flipping practice. However, the Scottish Government is aware that flipping is not the most appropriate solution for every local authority. Engagement will be undertaken at a local level to better understand local requirements and what support the Scottish Government can offer.
The Scottish Government strongly supports the recommendation to bring long-term privately owned empty properties back into use as permanent social or affordable homes wherever this meets local strategic priorities.
We are working with COSLA to reduce empty home ownership and have introduced financial disincentives, such as providing local authorities with additional powers to charge council tax premiums on second homes and higher premiums on long-term empty homes. Our consultation on this approach recently closed, and we will announce next steps which will be informed by responses to the consultation.
We will clearly signpost funding routes to bring suitable empty properties back into residential use. We will investigate what incentives, such as locally delivered grant schemes, that local authorities could offer. This could include resources for landlords to renovate properties for use as social housing for a specified period.
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (the Partnership) has been in place since 2010 and continues to promote the use of Affordable Housing Supply Programme funds as an effective tool to acquire empty homes within local authorities.
The Partnership launched a Strategic Framework in March 2023, which has been co-produced with local authorities, to help them develop strategic plans. Interventions to bring empty homes back into use can be time-consuming, complex and costly. We will discuss both the barriers and enablers to revitalising empty properties with local authorities. We will also publish independent research on privately owned empty homes later in 2023, which we will use to inform our interventions.
Although local authorities are currently able to use compulsory purchase order powers, we have also committed to reform and modernise compulsory purchase legislation in Scotland to make the system quicker, fairer and more effective. We will consult on compulsory purchase reform proposals in 2024-2025, with a view to implementing reforms in the next parliament. We will appoint an expert panel in 2023-2024 to help guide policy development.
We are committed to working with partners to find solutions to address long-term vacant council and housing association properties. There can be many reasons for this which vary across local authorities, so we will work with individual areas on the solutions that are right for them. This could include maximising the availability of tradespeople to focus on void turnarounds, finding ways to accelerate void processing in the short-term and supporting an environment that encourages innovative approaches.
We know some social landlords experience delays in the reconnection or resetting of energy meters in void properties. Similar delays are occurring with electricity and water connections. Collectively, these issues are negatively impacting on housing availability for occupation and contributing to the backlog in temporary accommodation.
Building on previous communication with the UK Government, energy companies, Ofgem and Scottish Water, we will bring utility companies round the table to identify ways to improve this situation.
The Scottish Government wants to see a greater share of allocations of social homes to homeless households. Strong arguments were made by the Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group on the impact that increasing the percentage of lets to homeless households can have on reducing the pressure on temporary accommodation. Increasing the proportion of allocations to homeless applicants for a specified period of time can significantly reduce the backlog of households in temporary accommodation. It could be particularly impactful in reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.
As the number of homeless households and the temporary accommodation provision in each area will vary, different solutions are required. For local authorities with a greater proportion of council stock, increasing lets to homeless households is within their control. We will urge all local authorities to consider the case for undertaking an appropriate level of increase for a specified period of time.
We know that the decision by some local authorities to allocate 100% of lets to homeless households for short periods has had a positive impact on movement of households to settled homes. It also allows for better case management for the smaller number of people requiring temporary accommodation. While we recognise that there will be trade-offs to weigh up, we will ask all local authorities to give consideration to significantly increased allocations to homeless households.
Housing associations need to play an active part in supporting households experiencing homelessness in their areas to access a settled home through a short-term increase in allocations to homeless households. This is critical in supporting local authorities in the discharge of their statutory duties and in meeting housing associations’ aims of supporting communities by providing quality, affordable housing.
Housing associations have a particularly important role to play in areas where local authorities have limited housing stock or have undertaken stock transfer. We will urge all housing associations to significantly boost the number of homeless households accessing settled homes and will work proactively with them, alongside local authorities, to identify ways to make this happen.
This will mean different things to different organisations and will depend on the size of the housing association and the location of its housing stock, among other factors. To help address regional disparity in allocations to homeless households, we will develop a set of broad allocation parameters for application at a national level, with specific detail to be agreed locally. These tailored allocation policies will help meet the needs of the number of homeless households locally and ensure any barriers to achieving this are understood and addressed.
Common Housing Register
Recommendation 8 made by the Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group was for a statutory requirement for each local authority area to have a single common housing register and a single common allocation policy. Common housing registers help remove barriers for people navigating the social housing system. They reduce the burden on applicants to apply to multiple landlords and streamline the application and allocation process.
The Scottish Government recognises the benefits of a common housing register for people who apply for social housing. Having a single point through which to access all the available social housing in an area would help to mitigate the upheaval and uncertainty people experiencing homelessness face. It would also help households move more quickly through the system into settled, permanent housing.
As part of our engagement with social landlords, we will identify ways to remove local barriers to establishing a common housing register appropriate to each area. Given the different challenges across local authority areas, we intend to pursue a non-statutory means of achieving this in the first instance.
Maintaining person-centred approaches
A person-centred approach is imperative in preventing homelessness wherever possible and reducing the length of time households spend in temporary accommodation. We recognise the increasing difficulties staff face in their jobs to meet homelessness duties to households. We want to support local authorities’ efforts to avoid the risk of burnout and to retain talented people in these crucial roles.
To support local efforts to recruit staff, we will work with the Chartered Institute of Housing to develop initiatives that local authorities can use to help retain staff. We recognise short-term funding awards affect staff retention and recruitment, both of which subsequently impact on service delivery. We will explore the possibility of multi-year funding within the current financial constraints. This may offer local authorities greater flexibility in the posts they offer and help make employment in the public sector more attractive.
Homelessness prevention duties
We recognise that work on prevention to stop households coming into temporary accommodation in the first place is equally as important as moving people from temporary to settled accommodation. We are clear that the responsibility for the prevention of homelessness does not – and cannot – lie solely with local authorities and must be the responsibility of other public bodies too.
That is why we will introduce ground-breaking new homelessness prevention legislation. By placing duties on relevant public bodies, the responsibility to prevent homelessness becomes a shared public responsibility and action to prevent homelessness starts much earlier. We will work with public bodies in advance of the introduction of the legislation to ensure they each play their part.
Recent legislative changes
The Scottish Government is aware that some local authorities have concerns about their ability to discharge their homelessness duties following the extension of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order (UAO) to all homeless households.
Furthermore, the impact of the suspension of local connection referrals in November 2022 has the potential to increase the number of homeless presentations in some areas, which would place further pressure on temporary accommodation stock. This could lead to the use of unsuitable accommodation where this has not been necessary before or lead to an increase in UAO breaches.
These legislative changes were made to improve choice and experience for homeless households. We have implemented a local connection monitoring framework, the data from which so far shows a pattern of people moving across the country as the legislation intended rather than a disproportionate impact on particular local authorities. However, we will keep this under review and will monitor the impact of the legislation by capturing the net movement of homeless households across Scotland as well as the extent to which local authorities are breaching the UAO.
The Scottish Government will consider further policy or legislative measures to mitigate any unintended consequences for local authorities if there is an evidence base to justify this.
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