Black’s Blog: Homelessness - how to ‘Ask & Act’

Black’s Blog: Homelessness - how to 'Ask & Act'

Jimmy Black explains what he thinks the proposed new duty to “Ask” if people are homeless, & “Act” to help them, actually means.

I tend to be sceptical about the ever-increasing burden of well meaning housing legislation, so I’m going to be positive about “Ask & Act”.

In short, the current Housing Bill would impose duties on more agencies to help homeless people. Social landlords, the police, social services departments, A&E departments, social care organisations and probably anything financed by an Integrated Joint Board will have new legal obligations.

The homelessness provisions in the Bill lack detail, but that will follow in guidance. In short, the Bill says agencies who think people may be homeless, or threatened with homelessness, should ask about their housing situation, and then act to help them.

Given that just seems obvious, you would wonder why we need a Bill. But the Homelessness Task & Finish Group whose work underpins the Bill states, “We must recognise and accept that, currently, not all public bodies, third sector and private organisations, reflect and embed a culture where the needs of people are put ahead of process or systems”.

I guess that means that people in different agencies see homelessness as someone else’s job. Well, not any more. Agencies will have a duty to do what they can to prevent homelessness. If they have done all they can without success, they will be obliged to apply, on their client’s behalf, to the local homelessness service.

The idea is to get applications in early to prevent situations getting to the point where it’s all too late, and people lose their homes. The consent of the client is required.

There’s something else. According to the Bill, an agency “must, in the exercise of its functions, have regard to— (a) the need to prevent homelessness, (b) any guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers in connection with homelessness that is relevant to the exercise of its functions”.

What could all this mean in practice? Let’s pick some of the agencies covered by the Bill and think of practical situations.

  • Health Boards… community mental health nurses should be alert to any patients at risk of homelessness, and take action to prevent them losing their homes
  • Integrated Joint Boards… could impose a policy on any third sector organisation they fund ensuring compliance with the Bill, and provide training
  • Local authorities… might train finance departments collecting council tax or other debts to ensure that their actions do not cause people to lose their homes
  • Police Scotland… ensure officers dealing with street beggars are fully aware of local homelessness services and if necessary make applications on their behalf.
  • Housing Associations… prioritise homeless people beyond all other applicants and if appropriate, allocate the next available house.

I’m just making these situations up. Until the Government publishes guidance, the best way to understand this new Bill is to listen to the Scottish Housing News podcast, with Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive of the Cyrenians. You could also read the transcript. He co-chaired the Homelessness Task & Finish Group, so he knows what he’s talking about.

So what do I think “Ask and Act” actually means? If you work for one of the agencies listed in the Bill, homelessness is your job now. That’s what it means.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Further reading:

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

Share icon
Share this article: