Scotland’s 2012 homelessness commitment, created under the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003, entitles all unintentionally homeless people to settled accommodation by the end of this year. Currently, local authorities only have to secure settled accommodation for those homeless applicants who have been assessed as unintentionally homeless and in priority need. The Act stipulated that the priority need distinction must be abolished by 31 December.
The considerable level of resources and input required from local authorities and their partners to meet this target was recognised by the then Scottish Executive and the Parliament at the time of the passing of the Act in 2003.
The expansion of priority need to include all unintentionally homeless people was given the deadline of 2012, with local authorities having worked to meet the commitment since 2005.
Many organisations are currently working alongside local authorities in a bid to meet this ambitious target, however, some disparity between councils remains. Between July and September 2011, the Scottish Government reported that in nine council areas, 100 per cent of homeless assessments were considered as having priority need, in another 11, more than 90 per cent were assessed as priority, while eight were assessed between 80 and 90 per cent.
During that period, three councils assessed between 70 and 80 per cent. East Lothian Council was sitting at just 66 per cent. Things have moved on since these figures were released and all eyes are on whether all councils in Scotland will meet the commitment.
Extensive work has been undertaken to investigate this fully. The Scottish Parliament’s examined the importance of preventative work and asked the Scottish Government to consider including money advice and debt counselling as an integral part of the housing support to be made available to people who are homeless.
In its conclusions, the report states: “The 2012 commitment is a ground-breaking policy which has already delivered considerable improvements to the situation faced by homeless people in Scotland. The progress towards 2012, particularly in the area of homelessness prevention, has facilitated a culture change towards supporting people rather than focusing on assessment.” Committee convener Maureen Watt added: “Our committee welcomes the significant progress made towards ensuring that every unintentionally homeless person has a right to settled accommodation, with the latest statistics showing a 20 per cent reduction in homelessness across Scotland. It is imperative that this positive work continues and that we do everything we can to ensure that it is not undermined by potential obstacles such as the changes expected under the UK Welfare Reform Act. We will continue to monitor the situation following the full implementation of this landmark legislation by the end of this year.” The report has been welcomed by a number of groups who gave evidence to the committee.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the Scottish Government have a joint steering group looking at the commitment. Councillor Brian Goodall is the chairman of that group. He said: “I warmly welcome the report and I’m delighted that the Scottish Parliament has taken such an interest in progress Infrastructure and Capital Investment (ICI) Committee agreed to conduct an inquiry into progress made towards meeting the 2012 commitments in order that it could feed into the legal requirement preparations being placed on local authorities. Over a four-month period, the committee heard evidence from many local authorities, housing associations, the voluntary sector and the Scottish Government, and in March the committee published its findings.
The report highlighted the importance of the housing options approach adopted across Scotland and recommended ongoing support from the Scottish Government to encourage its further development. It also advocated the development of a measurement tool for homelessness and recommended developing partnership working across different services and ensuring that housing associations and voluntary sector organisations are included in the work of the housing options hubs. In 2010, five hubs were created to promote a ‘housing options’ approach to homelessness and to share best practice across all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. The committee recommended that debt counselling should be included in the support offered to homeless people.
However, while acknowledging the work which had been done so far, the report also noted the potential obstacles to meeting the 2012 commitment. These include changes expected under the UK Welfare Reform Act which it is expected will place increased pressures on local authorities. The committee, which will monitor the implementation of the 2012 commitment for the rest of the session, 2012 and beyond against the 2012 commitment. Councils across Scotland are taking this matter very seriously and are pulling out all stops to meet the 2012 target. I’ve been heartened by the huge progress made, but unfortunately, it’s not had the public recognition it deserves. There is still a lot to be done by the end of this year and we are aware of the challenges that are still lying ahead, especially as a result of welfare reform, the UK economic situation and the huge pressure on budgets.
“The ICI committee report presents a comprehensive picture of the current situation, it acknowledges the achievements made as well as the challenges we face. I personally feel the report provides some very helpful recommendations and as chair of the 2012 steering group, I’ve given a personal commitment that the report will receive the fullest consideration at our next meeting.” Head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, Gordon MacRae, said the charity was “very pleased” the committee decided to undertake this inquiry in the first place. He added: “We are delighted that they share our view that the 2012 commitment has been a catalyst for profound change in the way homelessness is dealt with across the nation.
In terms of the recommendations, we thought there was a lot of useful, constructive ideas in there. Our perspective is that it shows the 2012 commitment has been a catalyst for best practice. That means preventing homelessness in the first place, it means making sure people get the help and support they need when they are homeless and so they are not in the system for too long a period of time and it also means a better use of housing stock so that people are able to access long-term housing. Overall it is a very good report, we think it is useful they want to come back on some of the recommendations and look again nearer the end of the calendar year when the commitment is due to come in.
We like the fact that there is a recommendation around the need for more homes and acceptance of the fact that Scotland wasn’t building enough homes, even before the crash.” Referring to recent statistics which showed a 20 per cent drop in homelessness applications in the past six months, MacRae said: “We are delighted that there are fewer people being made homeless but we are urging caution to better understand what is going on. It is a big drop, quite quickly and it would be useful to unpick some of those statistics. While we think it is good news that there are fewer people in the homelessness system, it is good news that local authorities are taking a person-centeredapproach to homelessness through the housing options system. We would even suggest the committee themselves might want to look more closely at the correlation between the reduction in homelessness applications and the introduction of housing options.
“Overall the report reinforces the fact that this is something Scotland should be celebrating. It is the forgotten success of the Scottish Parliament, we talk about the smoking ban, we talk about tuition fees but this is something which is having a profound impact on our society. People around the world are looking at Scotland to see how we are dealing with it and implementing it so they can follow suit. We should pause and reflect that this is a success story for the Scottish Parliament.
This is an example of Scotland leading the way on social policy and showing that where we have an issue in our society, the Scottish Parliament has a means to address it.” Helen Barclay, policy adviser for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), said: “The SFHA and its members fully support the spirit of the homelessness legislation and its intention to eradicate homelessness. However, it has become clear that there has been insufficient investment in affordable housing over the years to allow the proper implementation of the legislation. The level of tenancy sustainment is as vital a component of addressing homelessness as the 2012 target itself.
At the same time we need a much stronger and financially backed commitment to fully supporting vulnerable people to live in their homes, regardless of tenure.
“Our members have a consistently good track record at building and managing sustainable communities through allocating across a range of housing need and aspirations. Therefore, the allocation of all affordable rented housing should be managed through the publicly scrutinized lettings policies of democratically elected and accountable housing association and local authority committees. This can only be done by the Scottish Government urgently bringing together the various legislative provisions dealing with housing need to ensure that there is an open, transparent and publicly supported route into rented housing, which caters for sufficient numbers of homeless applicants.”