Matt Downie: Strides made towards a new framework for improving homelessness prevention



Matt Downie MBE

Crisis director of policy and external affairs Matt Downie MBE writes about progress towards recommendations for the Scottish Government regarding wide-ranging legal requirements to prevent homelessness.

The Prevention Review Group met yesterday, our third meeting since we started our work in November. As discussions have unfolded, some initial recommendations have emerged as to how we see homelessness prevention developing in Scotland.

First of all, we believe that prevention must be the priority: homelessness must be prevented wherever possible, so that people only have to go through the indignity of homelessness where there is no other option. The current law needs to be clarified to create a clear route to achieve this, while ensuring that the current strong set of entitlements remain for those who do end up losing their home. Prevention should start much earlier than it does now, where local authorities only have to provide statutory support when the risk of homelessness is within the next two months.

We think there are some lessons to learn from recent developments in England and Wales where there is a clear set of steps that a local authority must consider to prevent people’s homelessness. These should always be a minimum set of options, which councils can add to, but having a baseline will help local authorities and individuals work out whether the right steps are being considered to end the threat to their housing. For some people remaining in or returning to their current accommodation might be the best thing, and the law should allow this to happen.

However, there are also areas we believe should not be adopted from other parts of Britain. In particular the Group is clear that we do not want to see replication of the stringent duties on individuals to engage with homelessness services or lose their entitlement to any support.

We are considering how to make recommendations which would give people access to a wide range of different housing options, the same as what any other member of the community might have available to them. It will be important that the accommodation is “settled”, in other words gives someone a lasting home, and we want to look at how we can ensure that the accommodation suits the specific needs of the household as far as possible. A draft flowchart has been developed to show how this process might work.

The Group is now undertaking the task of looking at what duties might apply to a wider range of public bodies. The challenges of different organisational priorities and cultures has become apparent, but it is also clear that there is some good work which provides a foundation to start from. 

The Group has started by focusing on health and social care. We believe that no one should be coming out of hospital to face homelessness, and it is important that health services have information about people’s housing situations. It is also clear that homelessness services should not be responsible by default for picking up gaps in services for people with health and social care needs, such as people with complex mental health problems or specialist accommodation requirements. We will continue to consult with stakeholders as to exactly how legal duties might work to make these changes effective.  

Initial discussions on criminal justice have led to consideration of a duty on prisons to “ask and act” – to ask people about their housing situation while they’re in prison, and then to take action. In most cases this will be about liaising with the local authority to make sure housing is addressed. A similar duty could apply to police, particularly where there is clear risk of homelessness, such as a family dispute or where someone is at risk of rough sleeping. Over the coming weeks, the Group will also be looking in detail at domestic abuse and children, young people and families.

Finally, the Prevention Commission, a group of people with lived experience and frontline experience of homelessness, also started its work shadowing the Group’s discussions in January and are continuing with monthly meetings. We’re really excited about having this crucial input into the work. Right from their inaugural meeting, they have been able to feed in invaluable and constructive proposals which would put people experiencing a risk of homelessness at the heart of proposals for new legal duties and give individuals greater control over the process. A joint meeting with the Review Group is being planned at present, so that the two groups can meet face to face to share views and explore recommendations. 

For more information about the Prevention Review Group visit here.

This article was originally published on the Crisis website.



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