New legislation, as of today (29 November), will enable people experiencing homelessness in Scotland to choose where they “settle” in order to access support in a way which best meets their needs.
Homelessness remains one of the most important issues facing local authorities in Scotland today. In 2021, there were more than 35,000 homeless applications made to local authorities across the country. Addressing the annual rise (around 5%) in the homeless population of Scotland remains high on the agenda for the Scottish Government, local authorities and social housing providers alike.
Previously, those presenting as ‘unintentionally’ homeless in Scotland could be asked by the local authority to demonstrate their “local connection” to the area in which they are applying for accommodation. If a person was unable to do this, the local authority had the power under section 33 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 to refer the applicant to another local authority with which it was deemed they had a stronger connection, such as family links.
The Scottish Government has now introduced the Homelessness Persons (Suspension of Referrals between Local Authorities) (Scotland) Order 2022, which came into force on 29 November 2022. This legislation removes the power for local authorities to refer homeless persons to a different authority area. The idea behind this change is to allow people experiencing homelessness more freedom when it comes to where they settle and access key services.
Removing the barrier
Housing Secretary, Shona Robison, has stated that: “Local connection requirements have been recognised as a barrier to accessing homelessness services which is why we have chosen to remove them.” The overarching aim of the Scottish Government is to provide those experiencing homelessness with greater flexibility, so that they will not miss out on access to crucial support services simply because they decide to move to another part of the country.
The new approach has been praised by those working most closely with the homeless population in Scotland, but the Scottish Government will continue to review the data, as well as feedback from local authorities, in order to assess how beneficial this change in approach will be to addressing Scotland’s homelessness issue.
Increased pressure on housing supply in some areas
However, the Order does not make any changes to the rules on the allocation of housing, which means that local authorities will have an absolute duty to secure permanent accommodation for any applicants which are not intentionally homeless. The statutory changes therefore raise concerns for local authority areas where demand for housing is already high and housing supply is limited.
If you would like further advice and assistance in relation to any of the issues raised in this article or what the changes to the legislation will mean for your organisation, please contact Collette Miller.