Garry Burns: Homeless Action Scotland’s policy asks for next Holyrood Parliament

Homeless Action Scotland communications and engagement manager Garry Burns outlines the policy proposals the charity believes should be adopted by the next Scottish Parliament.

Garry Burns: Homeless Action Scotland's policy asks for next Holyrood Parliament

The Scottish Parliament elections are rapidly approaching, and the various political parties are setting out their vision for Scotland. We have heard from many other organisations – and agree – that we need a significant increase in social housing. However, there are a number of other interventions that we propose should be actively considered by the next Parliament.

Some of them might need legislation but in the main, the only real driver is political will. We respectfully suggest that these proposals should be debated, discussed, improved and adopted.

Notwithstanding the success of programmes to bring in rough sleepers from the cold during the Covid crisis, the number of people either homeless or at risk of homelessness is perilously high. Families stuck in temporary accommodation, people struggling to pay rent and work insecurity at its zenith. More can and must be done to stop an even greater homelessness crisis emerging.

At Homeless Action Scotland we believe that this means it’s time for a dedicated minister for Homelessness and Housing. The scope of the current brief which includes the huge areas of Planning and Local Government would be better split from homelessness.

Nobody who is in employment should be overcharged for homeless accommodation. Current practice within homeless services in Scotland essentially make it almost impossible for someone who is working to access homeless services due to the rental charge. In instances where someone is in employment and presents as homeless, their rental charge should be at the same rate as any other council or RSL housing. This is what the legislation stipulates yet many working people report that “they are told they cannot afford to pay the rent” of the homeless accommodation that is available.

From the police assisting or refusing to respond to an illegal eviction, to the hundreds of occasions that people were turned away from statutory homeless services, all to often in Scotland, statutory obligations are not met for homeless people. Once the election is over we appeal to the next Scottish Parliament to ensure that homeless people statutory rights are met. Only 5% of reported cases of illegal evictions resulted in a conviction. Only a fraction of cases reported being investigated by the police. In 2019 there were some 3365 instances of a local authority not providing accommodation to someone they were legally obliged to provide for. We believe that Scotland has some of the best homeless and housing legislation in the world, but this is an irrelevance without enforcement.

Almost every profession in Scotland has a regulatory body which those who work in that profession need to register with in order to practice. This does not apply to housing officers or homeless caseworkers. Even when their colleagues that work in the support side of housing or homelessness are legally required to register with the SSSC, which, rightly has significant powers to investigate those who work with vulnerable people. We believe that in order to support homeless professionals and protect users rights, that a body not dissimilar to the SSSC is established. This body would assist with training and education of the homeless and housing professionals while simultaneously ensuring that vulnerable people are offered the same protections that they are in other walks of the public sector.

The Scottish Government have recently set aside a fund to protect people going into rehabilitation for drug addiction to ensure they do not lose their home. We believe this is a step in the right direction but in order to ensure that no one has to choose between their health or their home, the next Parliament should ensure that no eviction or threat of eviction can be used by a social landlord while someone is in rehabilitation.

We further believe that there should be a stronger focus in Scotland on the outcomes of people who have presented as homeless. For the majority of people becoming homeless and needing to use statutory services is a unique event in their lives. Most people solve their homelessness without using services. However, there is a significant number of people who find themselves homeless numerous times, and sadly this crosses generations. We believe that in order to better understand this issue that Audit Scotland or a similar body should commit to a thematic review of these services, their effectiveness and value for the public purse.

All of these issues are aspects of homelessness, which are far more complex than this space allows us to explore and for that reason we will go into each issue in more detail in the coming weeks. 

If you are interested in any of these issues, whether you agree with us or disagree with us, then please get in contact with us and we would be happy to discuss.

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