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Worst forms of homelessness less common in Scotland than England, research finds

Rates of the worst forms of homelessness are significantly lower in Scotland than in England, new research from Heriot-Watt University has found.

The 2021 Homelessness Monitor Scotland – commissioned by homelessness charity Crisis and led by Heriot-Watt University – provides the most in-depth study of homelessness in GB. 

The research found that the rate of ‘core homelessness’, which includes people rough sleeping, using unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&Bs, sofa surfing or sleeping in garages or industrial premises, was almost twice as high in England than in Scotland.

Overall it found that 0.94% of households in England were experiencing a form of core homelessness, compared with 0.66% in Wales and 0.57% in Scotland, with the report identifying Scottish homelessness and housing policy as one cause of lower rates.

Researchers found that since 2012 England has had consistently higher rates of ‘core’ homelessness than both Scotland and Wales, with rates growing faster in England over that time.

These findings are a result of homelessness being a long-term priority for the Scottish Government. Recent progress was made when the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG), chaired by Crisis Chief Executive Jon Sparkes, was formed to examine what further action could be taken to tackle rough sleeping and end homelessness in Scotland. 

HARSAG’s recommendations for action led to the Scottish Government and COSLA publishing the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan – the first plan to end homelessness in the UK. The action plan led to a move towards rapidly rehousing people experiencing homelessness into safe, settled accommodation. This alongside greater supply of affordable housing and the removal of priority need almost ten years ago has helped reduce rates of rough sleeping. 

The Homelessness Monitor Scotland report comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new plans to strengthen homelessness prevention legislation and to consult on introducing new prevention duties in the Programme for Government.  

The plans, based on recommendations from the Crisis-convened Scotland Prevention Review Group and backed by every party in the Scottish Parliament, would allow people to access support earlier, while also requiring public services to ask about someone’s housing situation then act if they needed help. 

Under the PRG recommendations, no one would leave a hospital, social housing or prison without somewhere to stay that night. 

The research also found measures introduced by the Scottish Government to protect tenants from eviction had been vital in preventing a rise in homelessness applications during the coronavirus pandemic. 

But while 57% less households in 2020/21 presented as homeless due to an eviction compared to the previous year, local authorities warned that temporary restrictions on evictions may have only delayed people being forced out of their homes, particularly in the rented sector.

Every local authority in the survey said they expect to see an increase in people made homeless after being evicted from the private rented sector.

The report also found that while evictions fell, the pandemic saw the number of households placed in temporary accommodation grow by 21%. The number of households placed in B&Bs went up by 79%, to almost double the number the year before. 

The research found that the average time spent in temporary accommodation rose from 187 days to 199 days over a year, with one in six households spending more than a year in temporary accommodation. 

On 31 March 2021, 3,645 households with children or a pregnant woman were in temporary accommodation across Scotland, the highest number for a decade, comprising 7,130 children. 

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “This research shows that with the right political will and by working together we can make huge strides in tackling homelessness. But while the Scottish Government has made significant progress in recent years, it is vital we maintain momentum and push on with our efforts to stop more people being forced into homelessness.

“The emergency response to the pandemic from national and local government, as well as homelessness services, saw thousands of people moved off the streets and given safe, self-contained accommodation. There is no doubt that action saved lives. 

“But with the economic impact of the pandemic yet to take effect it is critical that we act now to protect against a rise in homelessness. 

“Crisis was delighted to see the First Minister announce plans to strengthen the law around prevention in Scotland, as well as to consult on plans for new prevention duties. 

“These proposals, if implemented, could stop thousands more from experiencing the trauma and indignity of losing their home, while making Scotland a world-leader in its journey to ending homelessness altogether.”

Housing Secretary Shona Robison said: “During the last 12 months there has been remarkable progress towards our goal of ending homelessness. We have demonstrated that, with the right approach and funding, local authorities and their third sector partners have the means to end rough sleeping in Scotland. 

“That said, we know there is still much more to do, and we are building on our progress by following the policies outlined in our Ending Homelessness Together action plan. These include placing greater emphasis on preventing homelessness, making greater use of rapid rehousing, and ending the use of night shelters and dormitory style provision.

“We are also doing all we can to support tenants who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, with total housing support at almost £39 million. This includes a new £10 million fund allowing councils to provide grants to those at risk of homelessness so they can reduce or pay off rent arrears.”  

Dr Beth Watts, Heriot-Watt University, the report’s lead author, said: “This year’s Homelessness Monitor provides encouraging evidence that the radical and rapid response to tackling homelessness during the pandemic has prevented many people from experiencing it in the first place.  

“But it is worrying to see how many councils fear a rise in homelessness as some of these measures are lifted. As we look ahead, we must take this opportunity to build on the positive work that is already happening in Scotland. The focus on rapid rehousing to move people quickly out of temporary accommodation and the intentions to strengthen the prevention legislation will build on the ambitions to end homelessness for good.”