Council homelessness services ‘at breaking point’ as casework rises 10% 

Homelessness services provided by local authorities may be unable to cope with a future spike in homelessness when pandemic restrictions are lifted, housing charity Shelter Scotland has warned.

Council homelessness services 'at breaking point' as casework rises 10% 

Gordon MacRae

New figures published yesterday show that councils have seen a 10% increase in the number of live homelessness cases in the last year, despite emergency laws restricting evictions and repossessions during the pandemic.

The official Scottish Government figures show that there was a fall in the number of homelessness applications in the first year of the pandemic but Shelter Scotland said that delays to getting people into new, permanent homes have resulted in rising numbers of households in temporary accommodation and councils seeing caseloads rise to some of their highest ever levels.

At the end of March this year, there were 13,097 households in temporary accommodation (up 12% on 2019-2020)  and 25,226 live cases (up 10% on 2019-2020).

The number of households assessed as homeless in the 12 months to the end of March 2021 fell by 13% as evictions and mortgage repossessions were restricted by law.

Earlier this month, a six-month extension of emergency measures granted under the Scottish Coronavirus Acts was passed by the Scottish Parliament which included an increased notice period of six months to protect private and social sector tenants from eviction, up from the pre-pandemic 28-day notice period.

SHN has also reported that private and social landlords have signed new joint statements reaffirming their commitment to only take eviction action as a last resort and as well as last week’s announcement by Deputy First Minister John Swinney of a £10 million grant fund to support tenants struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of Covid-19.

Welcoming these developments, Gordon MacRae, assistant director of Shelter Scotland, warned that they may not be enough to prevent “unnecessary” evictions.

He said: “These figures show that the unprecedented action taken to keep people in their homes during the pandemic has worked. It meant that the number of people applying for homelessness assistance went down overall. Despite this council homelessness teams have never been busier, exposing that local services are at breaking point and may be unable to cope with a future spike in homelessness when pandemic restrictions are lifted.

“The Scottish Government were right to pass legislation to keep people in their homes but we can and must do more during the pandemic.

“Firstly, nobody should be evicted while we wait for the promised new tenant grant scheme to open. Those evictions are preventable and unnecessary.

“Secondly, we need to learn the lessons of what has worked to prevent homelessness and require landlords to do more to keep people in the home they have.

“Thirdly, we need to address why people who become homeless stay homeless for longer. We are calling for a National Taskforce to coordinate the provision of  temporary accommodation especially for families who spend the longest time waiting for a permanent home.”

Mr MacRae added: “Longer term we need to address the reasons that our housing system has become so broken and biased. We need to build our way out of the housing emergency by accelerating the Scottish Government’s ten-year plan for social house building. We need a minimum of 37,100 social homes during this Parliament.

“At a time when 95% of the Scottish adult population is white but only 87% of applications came from white households we must do more to understand why People of Colour and other marginalised groups are more likely to experience homelessness than other communities. By delivering on the promise to making housing a human right for everyone, Scottish Ministers can put social justice at the heart of Scotland’s housing system.”  

Scottish Labour has warned that the worst may still be to come as the evictions ban is effectively lifted and has called for a Covid-recovery plan for housing.

The party’s spokesperson for housing Mark Griffin said: “These stark figures should act as a wake-up call. Every year families are forced to spend more and more time in temporary accommodation, waiting for the safe, secure housing we all deserve.

“This is before we have even felt the full effects of the pandemic. If we do not act now the worst might still be to come.

“The SNP’s refusal to extend the evictions ban to all levels has created a ticking time bomb of homelessness.

“We urgently need a plan to get people into their own homes, without relying on temporary accommodation.”

In her response to yesterday’s statistics, housing secretary Shona Robison said the Scottish Government will prioritise moving people into permanent settled accommodation as soon as possible.

Ms Robison said: “Throughout the pandemic, the Scottish Government’s priority has been to keep people safe from coronavirus.

“We introduced protections to prevent evictions, which have contributed to a 42 per cent reduction in homelessness applications from the private rented sector.

“As recently as last week we announced a £10 million grant fund to support tenants who are struggling as a direct result of the pandemic.

“We also saw a huge effort by partners to work collectively and move hundreds of people from the streets and night shelters into a place of safety. The number of people sleeping rough in the areas where it was concentrated is now at a record low.

“Although this has contributed to an increase in the numbers in temporary accommodation, our utmost objective now is to step up our work with councils to ensure people are supported into permanent settled accommodation. We are investing £37.5 million to support councils to prioritise settled accommodation for all.

“I am glad we are starting to see reductions in number of open homeless cases and in the number of households in temporary accommodation since peaks in September 2020.

“We have pledged an extra £50 million to end homelessness and rough sleeping. Our updated Ending Homelessness Together action plan, published with COSLA in October 2020, renews our commitment and is strongly endorsed by stakeholders.

“We are taking firm action and this month revealed that 102,055 affordable homes have been delivered since April 2007, with 70,866 of these for social rent.

“We also plan to deliver another 100,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70 per cent for social rent, as part of our Housing to 2040 strategy.”

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