Blog: Glasgow City Council is breaking the law

Ahead of yesterday’s protest by Shelter Scotland against the “shocking scale of unlawful activity” from Glasgow City Council in denying homeless people their rights, Adam Lang details the background and facts behind the demonstration.

In Scotland we should be rightly proud of what is often referred to as “our world-leading homelessness legislation”. This is something that Shelter Scotland fought for and worked with MSPs and Councillors of all parties on over a number of years. It means that, in theory, those facing or experiencing homelessness in Scotland have some of the strongest rights to help, support and a home in the world.

However, at Shelter Scotland we know that the right to a home does not always equal the reality of a good home. Bluntly, we can have the most progressive rights and legislation in the world, but what use are they if they don’t get implemented properly at a local level?

According to the law in Scotland, anyone who is homeless (or at risk of becoming homeless) has the right to help from the council. More specifically:

  • Everyone has the right to make a homeless application.
  • While that application is being assessed, the council has a legal duty to provide temporary accommodation for those who need it.
  • If the council decides the person isunintentionally homeless, they still have a legal duty to continue providing temporary accommodation until permanent, secure accommodation can be found

Ensuring those that need it can access these homelessness services, is a consistent and pressing issue for Shelter Scotland.

Our services across Scotland deal with approximately 25 cases per month where an individual seeks our advice after having been turned away from a local authority’s homeless services and denied their legal right to support. This practice is known as ‘gatekeeping’ and it is unlawful. This unacceptable practice is resulting in a growing number of people resorting to rough sleeping, sofa surfing, returning to situations where they are potentially at risk of violence, and other forms of insecure accommodation.

At Shelter Scotland, our definition of gatekeeping is:

– “The practice and systems of stopping people from accessing the homeless services which they are entitled to by law.”

Early this year, we compiled a report on incidents of gatekeeping from those we helped across Scotland. Between July 2016 and November 2017, we logged 370 cases of people who came to us for help having experienced gatekeeping. Glasgow City Council were responsible for more than 100 of these recorded cases.

We sent localised versions of our gatekeeping report to the relevant council officials and elected members of the local authorities which, according to our case files, were responsible for the most gatekeeping cases in Scotland. We also shared our findings with Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, the Local Government and Communities Committee at Holyrood and the members of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.

Glasgow City Council is the only local authority to have not formally responded in the six months since we shared the report with them.

Since January, several things have happened that have advanced our work and understanding in this area:

– In March 2018 the Scottish Housing Regulator published its report into Glasgow homeless services, which showed Glasgow City Council had failed to provide accommodation to almost half of those that it had a statutory duty to help.

– Then, in June 2018, the Scottish Government’s annual homelessness statistics were released, and this year, there was a new component, known as the HL3 return. This showed that last year, on 3,025 occasions, Glasgow City Council broke the law by denying homeless people their right to temporary accommodation.

We have no way of knowing how many other people were denied their right to make an application in the first place and who never made it into these figures.

What we do know is that Glasgow City Council is breaking the law and failing the people of Glasgow on a weekly basis. Despite our efforts to highlight this to the council over the past 3 years and more – from meetings and letters to a formal report  – there has been no meaningful acknowledgement of the problem and no real improvement on the ground. Nor has the council faced any consequences for having broken the law over 3000 times.

Enough is enough.

That’s why (yesterday) Shelter Scotland staged a peaceful protest outside City Chambers.

We’re calling for:

  1. An immediate ban on gatekeeping.
  2. An emergency meeting with the leader of Glasgow City Council within 2 weeks and an official response to our Gatekeeping report within 2 months.

Will you sign our petition to highlight how #GlasgowCCfailspeople and call for an end to this illegal practice?

A report summarising our evidence on gatekeeping in Glasgow City Council as well as a Q&A explaining yesterday’s protest and our engagement with Glasgow City Council to date are all now publicaly available online.

  • Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland

This article was originally published on the Shelter Scotland website.