Housing key to achieving a fairer Scotland

Angela Constance
Angela Constance

The Scottish Government has published a landmark plan of fifty bold and ambitious actions to achieve a fairer Scotland, including key actions on housing access, affordability and homelessness.

A £29 million programme, including £12.5m from the European Social Fund, is being established for communities and the third sector to design, test and deliver new approaches to tackling poverty and improving lives.

Published this week by communities secretary Angela Constance, the Fairer Scotland Action Plan (FSAP) lists 50 actions to be achieved in the next 14 years under five themes of a fairer Scotland for all, an end to child poverty, a strong start for all young people, fairer working lives and a thriving third age.

It outlines measures such as delivering more warm and affordable homes in this parliament; delivering improved services for tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) in 2018 and building on Scotland’s world-leading homelessness rights.

The FSAP reads: “During the last parliament, we surpassed our 30,000 target, delivering 33,490 affordable homes, of which 22,523 were for social rent. We will now invest over £3 billion over the next five years for at least 50,000 affordable homes, of which 35,000 will be for social rent.

“Housing for social rent already has to meet our accessibility standards, but funding is also available for specialist housing – for example, helping disabled people with more complex needs live independently in their own homes; and older people to stay in their own homes for longer. There will be other improvements too. Wherever possible, homes delivered under this programme will include ducting to help future-proof people’s access to internet and broadband services.”

Actions to give households living in the PRS a better deal include:

  • A new no-fee Housing Tribunal to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords
  • The Private Residential Tenancy – this new tenancy will continue indefinitely unless the tenant wants to leave or the landlord has specific grounds for eviction (as set out in legislation). This will make people feel more secure in their rented homes. These tenants will also have a guarantee that rents can rise only once every twelve months and the landlord will need to give three months’ notice of any increase. This should make budgeting over time easier
  • Letting agent regulation – this will improve the quality of service that letting agents provide.
  • The document adds: “These new arrangements will be in place at the beginning of 2018. We will launch a publicity and education campaign to ensure that tenants and landlords understand their rights and responsibilities, and we will explore options for funding partner organisations to support individuals to enforce their rights.”

    The action plan also sets out to improve the provision of temporary accommodation, including for young people, by working with local government to develop a new approach in the face of UK welfare reforms; developing minimum standards, based on the equivalent standards for permanent social housing; introducing a cap of one week for families with children and pregnant women living in B&B accommodation, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

    It said: “With local government, we will improve the prevention of homelessness by launching a Housing Options toolkit. And we will strengthen links between homelessness services and health services, including mental health and primary care services, so that the effects of homelessness on health are better understood and addressed and so that those facing homelessness combined with multiple exclusion get joined up support.”

    Other actions listed in the plan include setting a target for councils to make at least 1 per cent of their budgets available for community-designed projects; helping refugee families settling in Scotland under Family Reunion rules access grants as quickly as possible; delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband and helping low-income households reduce costs as well as convening an affordable energy summit.

    And for the first time anywhere in the UK, the FSAP commits the Scottish Government, councils and other public bodies to a Socio-Economic Duty – assessing the impact certain policy or service changes will have on tackling poverty – which will soon go to consultation.

    Ms Constance said: “Our ambition is for a fair, smart, inclusive Scotland with genuine equality of opportunity for everyone.

    “Our Fairer Scotland Action Plan backs up that ambition with concrete action.

    “It contains 50 specific steps to create a more equal society – including eradicating child poverty – and a new £29m programme to tackle poverty.

    “We are also the first in the UK to commit to making all public bodies consider how our big decisions tackle poverty, by implementing a socio-economic duty.

    “In addition, some of our best-known employers are joining us in these efforts by signing pledges to do more. They see it’s not only the right thing to do but also good business.

    “This is a watershed moment in Scotland and a significant milestone in our quest for equality.

    “Through these bold and ambitious steps, Scotland will be a fairer, more equal country for everyone by 2030.”

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