Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group: final report and recommendations
This sub-group of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group was set up to consider how to reduce the number of households living in temporary accommodation and the length of time they spend there. This report makes 15 recommendations.
There are increasing numbers of people living in temporary accommodation (TA) in Scotland, and people are now living there for increasingly long periods of time.
Numbers in temporary accommodation
On the 30th September 2022 there were 14,458 households living in TA in Scotland. This is an increase of over 34% since March 2012 and is the highest on record. There are also increasing numbers of children living in TA. The latest statistics show that on 30th September 2022 there were 9,130 children in Scotland living in TA, which again is the highest number on record.
There are significant variations across Scotland in terms of the numbers and trends in TA. Edinburgh has high and increasing numbers of households living in TA. On the 30th September 2022 Edinburgh had 3,371 households living in TA, 9% higher than the same date the year before and the highest on record for the city. In Glasgow the number of households in TA has increased by 1% from 2,929 households in September 2021, to 2,972 households on 30th September 2022. Aberdeen has seen a 22% increase in the numbers of households in TA, from 237 households in September 2021, to 288 households in September 2022.
Conversely, Dundee reported reductions in the numbers of people in TA compared to the previous year. This suggests that although Scotland-wide figures indicate the scale of the problem at a national level, it is not the same trend in all areas. The Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group (the Task and Finish Group) heard from a range of local authorities who are experiencing different pressures and levels of need in their area.
Length of time in temporary accommodation
Households are now spending increasingly long periods in TA. In 2021-22, the average amount of time spent in TA was 207 days., This is more than a month longer than in 2017-18, when the average was 175 days. Furthermore, 18% of all households whose case was closed in 2021-22 had spent more than one year in TA. Additional Scottish Government analyses made available for the Task and Finish group showed that for cases which were still open, the situation was even worse, with 26% of all households in TA on 31st March 2022 having already spent over one year there. This equates to 4,597 households stuck in TA for more than a year and highlights the importance of data being made available on time spent in TA for households who are currently homeless, to understand the sheer scale and extent of the issue.
Time in TA varies significantly by household type. Households with children tend to stay in TA for longer periods of time: in 2021-22 a couple with children spent on average 343 days in TA, compared to a single person where the average was 193 days. Again, the time households stay in TA also varies greatly by local authority. In Edinburgh a single person spent an average of 392 days in TA and a couple with children spent an average of 725 days. In contrast, Perth and Kinross' average time in TA was 54 days for a single person and 77 days for a couple with children.
That children spend on average almost a year in TA is of significant concern as we know this can have a detrimental long-term impact on children's wellbeing, and on levels of child poverty in Scotland. The Task and Finish group heard evidence on larger households struggling to move on from TA and this is supported by data showing the larger the household size, the more likely the household was to have been in TA for more than one year.
Public authorities must have 'due regard' to the public sector equality duty set down by the Equality Act 2010 and take into account the advancement of equality between people with a protected characteristic and those without the protected characteristic. This duty applies to local authorities in the context of acting as housing and homelessness support providers. The duty also applies to bodies who are not public authorities but who 'exercise public functions'.
The Task and Finish group recognises that there are equalities considerations that must be carefully taken into account when making recommendations to reduce the numbers of people in TA, and how long they stay there. The Task and Finish group heard evidence on how characteristics such as disability and gender can intersect with homelessness. This often leads to additional barriers and longer stays in TA, due to the lack of suitable permanent accommodation to meet the needs of someone with a disability, or there being no appropriate single sex TA available for women and their children,.
There is also evidence that households who are homeless with main applicants from minority ethnic groups are more likely to use temporary accommodation than households with 'White Scottish' and 'White Other British' main applicants, and are more likely to experience longer stays in TA,.
There is however a lack of data on the homelessness experiences of groups with protected characteristics such as gender reassignment, religion, and sexual orientation, and limited data on disability and ethnicity. Consideration must be given to how this data is collected to enable us to better understand their experience of homelessness and the services they require. This will be used to inform the practice and policies put in place to ensure they have equity of access to these homelessness services.
Operational and policy context
The Scottish Government convened the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) in September 2017. The Local Government and Communities Committee also carried out a year-long inquiry into homelessness which began in February 2017. The recommendations from these two workstreams were condensed into the Scottish Government and COSLA's (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan in November 2018.
The Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan set out a vision that everyone has a home that meets their needs, and homelessness is ended. The action plan committed to shifting towards rapid rehousing by default, to ensure people who do become homeless will be rapidly re-housed. This was adopted with the aim of preventing the damaging experiences of staying in unsuitable TA, such as B&Bs. This strategy is led by the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, which is co-chaired by the Scottish Government and COSLA. A key focus of the strategy is to ensure that homelessness is only ever 'rare, brief and non-recurrent'.
Clearly, these policies don't operate in a vacuum and must respond to the changing environment we're living in. Scotland's housing and homelessness system is operating under increasing social and economic pressure and is at breaking point. Factors such as the Covid pandemic, Brexit, and the cost-of-living crisis are all impacting on the already overstretched homelessness system. In addition, the correct decision to provide homes for those fleeing war and persecution has resulted in increasing demand for permanent homes which are not available, and homelessness services which are struggling to cope. This is happening at a time when many of those same pressures are contributing to the budgets to deliver these requirements becoming increasingly constrained. As such, it is important to acknowledge the difficult context in which local authorities are operating under as this report is being published.
The Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group
This report outlines the solutions put forward by the Task and Finish Group. The group was one of four set up by the Scottish Government to report to the co-chairs of the Homeless Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG): Shona Robison MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and Cllr Maureen Chalmers, Community Wellbeing Spokesperson at COSLA.
The Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group had a specific remit to consider how Scotland can 'turn the dial' on the statistics with the aim of reducing the number of people living in temporary accommodation and the length of time they stay there.
This Task and Finish Group is co-chaired by Alison Watson (Director, Shelter Scotland) and John Mills (Co-chair of ALACHO and Head of Housing at Fife Council) and met eight times between June 2022 and February 2023. The group has considered presentations from group members and external speakers and, importantly, contributions from people with lived experience who have fed their views and experiences into the group's discussions.
The constraints and time-limited nature of the Task and Finish group process meant we were unable to get behind the detail of every issue and recommendation. A good example of this is on locality: we know that there are different challenges, and opportunities, in different parts of the country. However, we have not been able to consider directives on what specific local authorities should do. Instead, we trust that local experts with access to all the data and facts are best placed to make decisions about local implementation of the recommendations outlined; that national guidance will take account of these nuances and that analysis and scrutiny of decisions — as referenced in several recommendations — can do likewise. The group's discussions also naturally stretched beyond the remit and as such, we have captured these elements in a separate section so that this insight and evidence is not lost.
What follows are fifteen recommendations which have been developed by the group, centred on three key priorities. The recommendations set out what the Task and Finish group consider must be taken on by COSLA, the Scottish Government, and local authorities themselves to reduce the numbers of people living in TA, and how long they stay there. This work should be taken forward as a priority in order to ensure that the housing and homelessness systems are able to withstand the increasing pressures that they are experiencing, and to ensure the right to a home is upheld for everyone in Scotland.
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