Homeless Action Scotland: Over 74% of people experiencing homelessness told they couldn’t afford accommodation rents

Homeless Action Scotland: Over 74% of people experiencing homelessness told they couldn't afford accommodation rents

A new survey conducted by Homeless Action Scotland has revealed that 74.2% of people experiencing homelessness were advised that they would not be able to afford rent for homeless accommodation. 

The organisation has published the results of a survey sent out to homelessness workers, support workers and others who work within the homelessness sector in December 2021.

When asked whether they had experienced or worked with anyone who was in paid employment and was advised that they would not be able to afford rent for homeless accommodation, 74.2% said yes, and 25.8% responded “no”.

Of those who said yes, 48.1% revealed that either themselves or someone they were working with accessed homeless accommodation. A total of 22.2% said no, while 29.6% said “other”.

Most respondents to these questions told Homeless Action Scotland that their clients did not take up the offer of homeless accommodation. There was also a considerable proportion of respondents who informed the organisation that their service users had to stop working or give up full-time education to access homeless accommodation.

The reason most given was that being in employment or adult education effectively disbarred their client from using benefits to pay for the high rental charges associated with homeless accommodation.

There were several instances where workers lost contact with those who had a statutory right to accommodation but did not take up their accommodation due to being told they could not afford it by homeless officers.

Sofa surfing was a common theme as a response for people who presented as homeless but were working, which was highlighted as a gender-based issue.

One respondent advised us that rental charges are capped irrespective of whether the accommodation is used for homeless accommodation. However, this appears not be standard practice across Scotland.

A small number of respondents told us that their clients were provided with low management accommodation, which although temporary accommodation was charged at what would be considered the standard rental charge for that local authority.

The ability to access financial support via housing benefit while working was also a factor on whether clients were able to access temporary homeless accommodation or not.
A respondent said: “We have definitely had cases of clients living in their cars or vans, because it was too expensive to go homeless. I remember one was a window cleaner, another a care assistant.”

Another added: “Most did not access accommodation but the ones who had no other choice had to, (they) reported being plunged into severe financial hardship and due to the impact of living in B&B or hostel/supported accommodation found holding the job down difficult.”

When asked if the individual or anyone they have worked for have been pursued for any debt associated with the cost of h omeless accomodation accrued while they were working, 43.8% said yes, 40.6% said no, and 15.6% gave an alternative response.

A common response from comments within this section is “it’s complex”, which reflects the various aspects of our respondents’ local authorities, job titles and organisations.

Where there is a shortfall of rent for homeless accommodation, there appears to be a multitude of approaches as to how this is dealt with. Most respondents advised that working people are in fact pursued for the debt accrued when charged the full rental charge for the homeless accommodation they were in previously.

There were also examples of people being pursued for this debt in a relatively aggressive manner, including using a well-known and established debt collecting agency. The debt accrued resulted in many workers losing contact with vulnerable people with whom they were working.

Several respondents said that the prospect of incurring debt has dissuaded people from accessing the homeless accommodation to which they are legally entitled, and it has prevented people they have worked with from presenting as homeless.

Several respondents mentioned that being advised they would incur debt prevented their clients from presenting as homeless in the first instance. It has also resulted in clients withdrawing their application - or just not returning to the office where they made their homeless application - once they had been told they would incur the full homeless rental charge.

Where advice and assistance are available it has supported people to access accommodation. However, it is noted that this is not something which is available to every employed person who presents for accommodation. Advice agencies that are specialists in homelessness are not widely available across Scotland.

Shelter Scotland was mentioned as an organisation that were able to successfully challenge a local authority unlawfully pursuing someone who had been working while in homeless accommodation.

When asked “do you think that working people are discriminated against if they need to present as homeless”. 56.3% said yes, 15.6% said no, 6.3% said they didn’t know and 21.% replied”other”.

Some of the respondents felt that the terminology of discrimination was too strong, one pointing out that this is not a protected characteristic within UK legislation. Although of course it should be noted that discrimination can happen out with the protected characteristic groups.

There was a strong emphasis from the respondents that the rental charge for homeless accommodation was set at too high for anyone who is in full or part time employment or in full time or part-time education to be able to afford. This unaffordability seemed to be what led some councils to advise those in employment, that they could not afford the rental charge for their homeless accommodation.

Several of the respondents pointed out that some of the temporary accommodations, such as B&B’s or supported accommodations, have set curfew hours which make it difficult for anyone who is working out with normal office hours.

Another issue highlighted was one of discrimination against people living in homeless accommodation when they applied for a job.

Gavin Yates, CEO of Homeless Action Scotland, said: “We are very grateful to our members for highlighting their concerns on this important issue. It is clear in some authorities there have been approaches taken to encourage homeless people to continue to work and to ensure they can do that at no detriment. In others the advice has been to cease work and claim benefits. This cannot be the right answer to this issue.

“It can’t be right that some councils charge working people £300 a week for temporary accommodation when the average rent is nearer £75.

“There needs to be an end brought to this postcode lottery and everyone that can and wishes to work should be able to access social housing at an affordable rate. This practice of allowing people to build up unsustainable housing debt must end.

“We are calling for an immediate taskforce with the key players round the table including COSLA and the Scottish Housing Regulator to end this practice for good.” 

The full report can be found here.

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