Consultation reveals support for changes to intentionality homelessness legislation
New legislation to remove the duty on local authorities to test if someone’s homelessness application was ‘intentional’ will come into effect from November, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
Last year the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group recommended changes to homelessness laws, and newly-published analysis of consultation responses show support for the measures.
The first change will remove the current duty on local authorities, as required by the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, to investigate whether a person applying to them for accommodation became homeless or threatened with homelessness intentionally.
The Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 made provision to change the operation of the intentionally homeless test which would give local authorities discretion, rather than the current duty, to investigate intentionality.
The government said the changes to intentionality legislation, which will come into effect from November 2019, will make receiving support easier for people who have difficulties in their lives, such as financial or mental health issues.
Ministers also announced plans to remove the requirement for people facing homelessness to demonstrate a connection to a council area before they can receive support from that local authority.
Local authorities currently have the power under the Act to refer homeless households who do not have a local connection with them to another local authority where they do have such a connection.
The detail of these changes will be developed in collaboration with councils and others and intend to give people in housing crisis the freedom to live in the community they choose, and access the support they need.
In its response to the government consultation, Shelter Scotland welcomed plans to remove barriers for people needing to access homelessness services but warned that the proposals don’t go far enough.
The housing and homelessness charity said its advisers routinely see people who have been denied help due to not meeting one of the tests. But after contacting the local authority, the charity often gets those decisions overturned after proper consideration of each case.
In its own consultation response, CIH Scotland welcomed the ambition to tackle homelessness in Scotland and the person-centred approach being taken but raised concerns over the financial support which needed to be made available to help local authorities deal with any increase in demand for housing or support services as a result of the changes.
Commenting on today’s news, Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “This is a welcome step in the right direction from the Scottish Government. Scotland is in the grip of a housing emergency and far too many people are finding it impossible to find or keep a secure home, so it is vital that the housing safety net is strengthened and able to help them recover from homelessness as quickly as possible.
“If implemented properly these changes will remove barriers that have been preventing people from getting the help they need to get their lives back on track.
“However, it won’t end homelessness. To do this we need to build many more homes and ensure services are in place to do more to stop homelessness in the first place.”
Graeme Brown added: “Shelter Scotland welcomes ambitions to improve the quality of support for people who are living the nightmare of homelessness but we are concerned that sufficient resources may not be in place to deliver this on the ground.”
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “Scotland has some of the strongest homelessness rights in the world and these changes to the law will allow more people to benefit from the support available. We want to make sure that anyone facing homelessness is supported into permanent, settled accommodation that meets their needs as quickly as possible.
“We are working with organisations and partners on the front line to tackle rough sleeping, and cut down the time people spend in emergency temporary accommodation. Crucially, we are listening to those with experience to make sure that we address the root causes of homelessness.
“This is part of our wider action plan, backed by £50 million, which sets out the steps we will take to end homelessness for good.”
Citizens Advice Scotland spokesperson Eilidh McIvor said: “Citizens Advice Scotland has pushed for these changes from the Scottish Government because they will help in the fight against homelessness.
“Scotland’s Citizen’s Advice network helps hundreds of thousands of people each year and we see first-hand how these rules can deny people experiencing housing crisis from accessing any support at all. These positive changes should reduce unnecessary barriers, ensuring that more people can access the correct type of support when they need it.”