MSPs press housing minister for homelessness and temporary accommodation update
Holyrood’s local government and communities committee has pressed the Scottish Government for more information on its continuing support for homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic and to respond to reports that homeless people in temporary accommodation are being made to leave their accommodation during the day.
The committee met last week to consider an amendment to the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014 and to rectify issues identified in the drafting of the 2020/139 amendment and provide clarity to support local authorities in their duty to provide temporary accommodation.
Whilst the committee agreed that it did not wish to make any recommendations to Parliament regarding the instrument or block its transition, it said that it agreed to write to housing minister Kevin Stewart for an update on measures to protect and house homeless people during the pandemic and beyond.
The letter highlighted the government’s decision to delay requirements for local authorities to ensure that homeless people are not housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation for longer than seven days. The new legislation will delay this requirement, which had already been delayed as a result of the pandemic, by a further five months. The committee said it will consider this legislation at a future meeting.
In a previous letter to the committee last month, Mr Stewart stated that there have been cases of homeless applicants moving from temporary accommodation (including B&Bs) to settled tenancies, but that challenges remain. He noted that successive lockdowns have impacted on the supply of suitable temporary or settled accommodation.
The committee has, therefore, called for further detail on:
- how many people who have been in temporary accommodation have been able to move into settled housing since the first lockdown occurred in March 2020,
- an estimate of how many remain in temporary accommodation,
- of these, how many remain in unsuitable temporary accommodation;
- any other relevant data the committee might find helpful in putting the problem of unsuitable temporary accommodation in context.
The minister’s letter also stated that the delay is required “to put in place the correct structure to aid recovery from coronavirus, providing local authorities with clarity on how they should plan their exit strategies and support a restructure of how we deal with homelessness, ensuring that all homeless households are able to be provided with high quality temporary accommodation prior to moving to a settled home.”
In a request for Mr Stewart to clarify his reference to “the correct structure to aid recovery from coronavirus”, the committee has asked what it means in the context of unsuitable temporary accommodation for homeless people and is it a reference to work to be done by local authorities or by the Scottish Government?
It has also requested clarification on what is meant by “exit strategies” by local authorities, again in the context of temporary unsuitable accommodation for homeless people. It asks how will the Scottish Government and local authorities ensure the implementation of a model which encourages a more seamless transition to settled accommodation provisions we emerge from the pandemic?
Finally, the committee said it has been made aware of reports that homeless people in temporary accommodation are being made to leave their accommodation during the day and concerns that spending considerable amounts of time outside during the winter months might have a negative health impact.
Asking Mr Stewart to reply directly to these concerns, the committee seeks to know if the minister understands them to be correct and, if so, what can central and local government do to support people and ensure that they are safe and can practice social distancing during the colder weather.