New research reveals people at risk of homelessness need support earlier
People threatened with homelessness should be able to get help earlier, up to six months before they are forced from their homes, new analysis from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and homelessness charity Crisis has found.
With the Scottish Government and COSLA’s joint consultation on homelessness prevention closing, CAS and Crisis have released new analysis of homelessness cases in Scotland over the last year, showing that earlier intervention and more joined up support could have stopped more people from being pushed into homelessness.
The analysis revealed several examples of clients being told by various services – including local authority housing and homelessness services – that they would not be able to access support to resolve their housing situation until they became homeless.
It also highlighted instances where clients were told the local authority was unable to help them “unless they have an eviction notice.”
Plans for new duties to prevent homelessness were contained in the Programme for Government, following the recommendations of the Prevention Review Group, made up of experts from local government, academic and the third sector.
Under the proposals, people at risk of homelessness could get help up to six months before they lose their home.
With the consultation on the plans set to close, Crisis and CAS said the analysis highlighted the need for new duties requiring public services, such as those working in health and social care or the justice system, to ask about someone’s housing situation then offer help if needed.
The analysis also revealed how a lack of integration of services presents a missed opportunity to resolve someone’s housing situation before they reach crisis point.
The most common problems reported on the homelessness system related to the quality and suitability of temporary accommodation, the support available to cover living costs, and the length of time people spent within it.
Some cases also revealed how the environment associated with temporary accommodation, such as drug and alcohol use by other occupants, noise, and anti-social behaviour, could exacerbate individuals’ mental health when forced to live in these conditions.
The analysis, conducted to inform how Crisis and CAS respond to the official consultation, was based on 185 cases from CAS between January 2021 and January 2022. The most common causes of homelessness in the cases analysed were domestic abuse, relationship breakdown, and eviction from private residential tenancies.
Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said: “This analysis reinforces the need for new measures to prevent homelessness in Scotland.
“Everyone deserves a safe, secure place to call home, yet each year far too many people in Scotland are forced to go through the trauma and indignity of homelessness.
“That’s why we support Scottish Government plans allowing people to get help earlier, before they reach a point of emergency, alongside new duties requiring public bodies to ask about someone’s housing situation, then acting to offer help if needed.
“If enacted properly, these changes hold the potential to make Scotland a world-leader in ending homelessness.”
Derek Mitchell, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, added: “This research highlights the horrific experiences so many people go through when they are made homeless and it can often be prevented.
“The Scottish Government’s plan to provide greater support to people in precarious housing situations to prevent homelessness is a positive step in Scotland’s journey to eradicate homelessness.
“Early intervention is crucial, and along with the duty on public authorities to pro-actively work together, should make a real difference to many people in future.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland has also published its response to the Scottish Government consultation on a Prevention Duty, noting its support for the principle and an obligation to be placed across the public sector while raising concerns about some of the specific proposals in the proposed measures.
In its response, CIH Scotland has stated that the prevention duty has the potential to transform how we tackle homelessness in Scotland by ensuring the broader public sector assess for risk of homelessness.
However, CIH Scotland has added that the current outline of how a prevention duty will apply raises questions about its effectiveness and whether it will improve housing outcomes for those at risk of homelessness.
Calum Chomczuk, national director at CIH Scotland, said: “This prevention duty has the potential to transform how we tackle homelessness in Scotland. Health and care services, education departments, social work, courts, prisons and the police service already engage with tenants and homeowners in a way that local authority housing services do not. Allowing them to assess for risk of homelessness could make a real difference.
“However, we are concerned that not enough consideration has been given to training requirements across the public sector and unless the right approach is taken, those at risk of homelessness may disengage from necessary health or care services. Nor has the cost of the Bill been fully considered. While over time, delaying or stopping someone from becoming homeless may realise financial savings for the public sector, in the short term the new duties and responsibilities will have to be resourced from somewhere.
“Additionally, the suggestion of moving people into safe and suitable accommodation for a minimum of 12 months appears a regressive step for those who previously had the right to fixed permanent housing.
“A prevention duty can help transform our approach to homelessness but its success will be determined by depth of public sector duties applied and a commitment to resourcing and training to embed a new approach.”