Recommendations for ending rough sleeping in Scotland agreed

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive

On Thursday, last week we had the seventh meeting of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group in Dunfermline.

This was a significant meeting, with the aim of agreeing our recommendations on ending rough sleeping in Scotland.  I am pleased to say there was consensus in the room for all the principles of what we want to recommend.  As I’ve explained in previous blog posts, the recommendations cover five key areas:

  • Preventing homelessness and rough sleeping – ensuring that as few people as possible have to endure the indignity of sleeping rough, not least by ensuring that groups at particular risk, such as people coming out of prison or hospital, have clear routes to mainstream accommodation built into the system
  • support on the frontline – making sure those working on the frontline having the training, skills, flexibility and freedom to do the best they can for the person in front of them without unnecessary delays
  • access to accommodation – getting people into settled accommodation, with the right types of support in place, as soon as we can
  • legal reform – to underpin shifts in culture and make sure local authorities and other public and voluntary sector bodies have the best framework to help people facing homelessness
  • measurement – making sure we know how many people are rough sleeping, and where and who they are, so that we can put in place the right support and make sure our interventions are working to end rough sleeping.

While the focus of this phase of work has been on rough sleeping, it’s important to note that some of our recommendations will impact on our later work on temporary accommodation and homelessness more broadly.

Following a recent roundtable meeting and building on a wider, ongoing, programme of work being undertaken elsewhere we are also including recommendations on the vital issue of people who become homeless after migrating to or seeking asylum in Scotland. These are some of the people who are most vulnerable in our society and can end up destitute with no way of supporting themselves when circumstances go wrong as they have no legal access to public funds to support them. 

You can read more about our thinking in my last blog. We expect to report to the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart, with our recommendations in the next week. The detailed recommendations will be made public once we finish drafting and have presented them to Kevin.

Lessons from Wales

We were also delighted to have Tasmin Stirling, researcher and former policy adviser to the Welsh Housing Minister, join us at the meeting to explore the lessons learnt from developing the ground-breaking legislative approach to preventing homelessness in Wales. Tamsin was involved from the very start in the conception of the new Welsh homelessness framework that was enshrined in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. It was thought provoking to hear about the process they went through and the lessons learnt during that process and since its implementation. 

The Welsh system effectively puts three duties on Welsh local authorities. As far as possible they must prevent homelessness, and a detailed Code of Practice sets out how this might be done.  If this doesn’t work, then there is a duty to relieve homelessness, often via the private rented sector, and failing this, the final duty is to secure accommodation for the household.  At this stage the tests of priority need, intentionality and so on, are applied. The purpose being to assist a greater number of people who were facing homelessness and solving each individual’s specific problem.

In some parts of Wales this system is working very well, but elsewhere implementation has been slower. Key to the success of this new framework has been a shift in culture among local authority staff, and strong leadership.

We had a valuable discussion around the role of other bodies and agencies in supporting this legislation, and what tools and levers are required to enable this change to happen.  There is a duty to co-operate within the Welsh legislation, primarily focused on engaging housing associations in accommodating homeless households (although not as strong as the duties on housing associations in Scotland). There was some discussion about how this compared to a ‘duty to refer’ in the new English legislation which is based on the Welsh model, and what might be appropriate in a Scottish context.

As the Minister examines our recommendations, our work continues, moving on to the issue of temporary accommodation.  With approximately 11,000 homeless households around Scotland currently in temporary housing, and with people remaining there for increasing periods, our remit is to transform the experiences of those people.  With that in mind, the last part of our discussion focused on how best to take this forward.

Temporary accommodation

Fundamentally we need to ask, ‘what is the role of temporary accommodation in tackling homelessness?’  As one group member put it, temporary accommodation is a ‘necessary evil’, and so we must work to minimise its impact, give people the best experience we can, and ensure that people’s time in temporary accommodation helps them move forward towards more secure circumstances, rather than undermining people’s progress out of homelessness, as sometimes happens.

We will spend more time focusing on these issues in depth at our next meeting in March. As always, if you have any questions on the work of the Action Group, please do get in touch.

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