Lisa Borthwick: Removing the right to a permanent home from people experiencing homelessness?
Shelter Scotland’s senior policy advocacy officer, Lisa Borthwick, outlines why the charity opposes a proposal in the Scottish Government’s Prevention Duties consultation to remove people’s right to permanent accommodation and replace it with “stable” accommodation.
I don’t think anyone would argue that preventing homelessness makes good sense. The current Scottish Government consultation on proposed new duties to help prevent homelessness therefore seems a no-brainer. However, we believe that one of the proposals, which will remove people’s right to a permanent home, presents a substantial risk to the Scottish rights-based system for people experiencing homelessness – and will increase homelessness rather than reduce it.
We were pleased to participate in the Prevention Review Group (PRG), and we share the sector wide aspiration to ensure and enable public bodies, beyond the housing and homelessness sector, to provide the required support to prevent homelessness wherever possible.
Many of the proposals from the PRG group in the government consultation would introduce important and positive changes for people at risk of homelessness. We wholeheartedly support and would in fact encourage the Scottish Government to introduce these measures as soon as possible:
- Extending the definition of threatened with homelessness from two to six months
- Introducing duties on public bodies to ask and act if they believe someone is at risk of homelessness
- Defining in legislation reasonable steps that local authorities should take to support someone who is threatened with homelessness
If enacted, and, importantly, if adequately resourced, we believe these policies would help reduce the number of people who experience the crisis of homelessness.
However, for us the litmus test for any changes to Scotland’s homelessness rights must be that they will reduce housing inequality and enhance existing homelessness rights and protections. The proposals contained in the prevention duty consultation go far beyond preventing homelessness, with a large proportion focusing on the local authority’s duty to individuals who have already been assessed as statutorily homeless.
One such proposal is to remove people’s right to permanent accommodation, or a Scottish Secure or Private Residential Tenancy, and replace it with ‘stable’ accommodation. We strongly oppose this proposal and see it as an unnecessary dilution of Scotland statutory rights. Stable housing with little or no real security of tenure should not be the principle we’re aspiring to in our homelessness system. Security of tenure is crucial in preventing future homelessness. Further, if we’re taking a human-rights based approach, we should be progressively realising the human right to adequate housing within Scotland. This right includes a strong emphasis on security of tenure: housing is not adequate if its occupants do not have a degree of tenure security which guarantees legal protection against forced evictions, harassment and other threats. The proposed changes are in direct conflict with realising the UN right to adequate housing.
The proposals imply changes are required to ensure that homeless households are able to access the same set of housing options available to the non-homeless population, including providing supported accommodation via occupancy agreements. We believe enabling local authorities to discharge duty to those who have already experienced the trauma of homelessness into accommodation without security of tenure is non-sensical, particularly when the underlying principle is to prevent homelessness. Instead, we have identified an alternative legislative change around discharging duty into supported accommodation. We believe this would meet the policy aspirations of choice and control whilst protecting the intention of the Scottish rights-based system and negating the need to reduce rights.
While we’re still working through the lengthy consultation, we have published a summary paper outlining our concerns and counter proposal, which is available on our policy library.
To solve the housing and homelessness emergency in Scotland and realise the human right to adequate housing, we must strengthen the housing rights framework, not weaken it. We must then ensure that individuals are aware of their rights and are able to enforce them. Providing adequate resources is essential if public bodies are to deliver on their statutory obligations and to enable local authorities and others to continue to roll out the many good practice examples that exist in preventing homelessness.
Further, if we want real choice for people experiencing homelessness – we need houses! The Scottish Government must therefore make good on its promise to secure delivery of 110,000 new affordable homes, including 70% for social rent, by 2032 in order to ensure anyone faced with homelessness is able to access a social home that meets their needs. Social housing ends homelessness, and in the run up to the elections in May, we are urging our council leaders to commit to building safe and permanent social homes, to lift children stuck in temporary accommodation in Scotland out of homelessness. For more information go to: https://scotland.shelter.org.uk/campaigning/social_housing_ends_homelessness.