Prevention approach to homelessness sees applications fall by four per cent

Margaret Burgess
Margaret Burgess

A national approach to homelessness prevention has been praised for contributing towards a sixth consecutive annual fall in the number of people who are homeless.

New homelessness prevention statistics from the Scottish Government have revealed a 4 per cent fall in homelessness applications in the last year and have attributed the consistent decrease on the Housing Options approach.

Housing Options is a process which starts with housing advice when someone approaches a local authority with a housing problem. This means looking at an individual’s options and choices in the widest sense.

The approach features early intervention and explores all possible tenure options, including council housing, housing association housing and the private rented sector.

The advice can also cover personal circumstances which may not necessarily be housing related, such as debt advice, mediation and mental health issues. Rather than only accepting a homelessness application local authority homelessness services will work together with other services such as employability, mental health, money advice and family mediation services etc to assist the individual with issues from an early stage in the hope of avoiding a housing crisis.

Published today (Tuesday), the PREVENT1 recording system figures show that for those approaching Housing Option services, around two in five resulted in a homelessness application being made, one in five remained in their current accommodation and around one in seven found alternative accommodation. A further one in five approaches were still to be resolved.

Where households presented for “homelessness type” reasons, only 45 per cent went on to make a homelessness application. This suggests that housing option services may have prevented homelessness for the remaining 55 per cent, although the counterfactual will never be known.

Over the same period, Scottish local authorities received around 35,800 homelessness applications – a reduction of 4 per cent compared to 2013-14. Across Scotland, two thirds of homelessness applicants (23,600) had used a housing options service first. There was marked variation across local authorities though, ranging from 2 per cent to 96 per cent, reflecting how local authorities have configured their housing option and homelessness services.

In addition to the fall in applications, the number assessed as homeless, or likely to become homeless within two months, also fell by 2 per cent to around 29,600.

For those entitled to settled accommodation, around 80 per cent secured a local authority, housing association or private let as an outcome. This proportion has remained stable for the past eight years.

At 31 March 2015, there were around 10,500 households in temporary accommodation – an increase of 2 per cent compared with one year earlier. Of these households, around a quarter were households with children. Just fourteen were households with children in bed and breakfast accommodation. There were no breaches of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014.

Housing minister Margaret Burgess said the new statistics evidence that the Housing Options service is responsible for the fall in homelessness applications.

Mrs Burgess added: “Housing is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambition for a fairer and more prosperous country, and preventing people from experiencing the misery of homelessness is a priority.

“By working across various different services to prevent homelessness happening in the first place, significant progress is being made to reduce the number of people who are homeless in Scotland.

“Recently we have seen the launch of the Empty Homes scheme, we are at 90 per cent of our commitment to deliver 30,000 affordable houses during the lifetime of this Parliament, and we will soon be looking at private rented sector reforms following a country-wide consultation – all of which will go further to help prevent homelessness in Scotland.

“We will continue to work closely with local authorities, housing associations, the private sector and voluntary organisations to prevent homelessness and ensure everyone has access to a warm and comfortable place to stay.”

Graeme Brown
Graeme Brown

Shelter Scotland has welcomed the fall in homelessness applications but warned that homelessness services could yet be threatened by a crisis in funding.

The charity said the statistics, when added to the number of people who went through the Housing Options process, provide a fuller picture of real housing need across Scotland – with a total of 69,800 approaches by households to their local authority for help.

A delay in guidance being issued by the Scottish Government raises concerns of a ‘postcode lottery’ of housing options services across Scotland, it added.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “It is welcome news that the number of people being assessed as homeless has decreased by two percent. However, 29,565 households still suffered the tragedy of homelessness last year, so there is no room for complacency.

“The homelessness and housing options statistics together give a truer picture of housing need in Scotland. By combining both sets of figures we can see that around 69,800 approaches were made by households to their local authority for help with housing - which is significantly higher than the top line homelessness statistics show us.

“And these figures don’t account for everyone without a home - like people with complex needs who didn’t or couldn’t make a homeless application or people who weren’t offered housing options.

“These figures also show an apparent ‘postcode lottery’ across Scotland in the way homelessness services are delivered – such as big differences (from a low of 7 percent to a high of 73 percent ) in the proportion of housing options approaches leading to a confirmed homelessness application. The Scottish Government can help rectify this by issuing its long overdue guidance on housing options.”

Graeme Brown added: “We are very concerned that there is an emerging crisis in the way temporary accommodation is funded due to forecast cuts in the forthcoming emergency budget which could jeopardise local authorities’ ability to carry out their statutory duties to homeless people.

“The Scottish Government and local authorities need to plan now for the impact on budgets caused by the introduction of universal credit and changes to how housing benefit is paid.

“Failure to commit enough resources to homelessness services would seriously undermine Scotland’s progressive and world-leading 2012 commitment on homelessness.”

Crisis Scotland warned that challenges remain despite the fall in homelessness as the figures also revealed that people applying as homeless are becoming more vulnerable.

The charity highlighted figures on the Operations of the Homeless Persons Legislation in Scotland showed that the number of people who have faced homelessness more than once had risen – with 7.2 per cent recorded as ‘repeat homelessness’, up from 5.6 per cent two years ago. There was also a rise in the number of people with ‘complex needs’ – anything from mental or physical health problems to drug or alcohol dependency issues – applying to 38 per cent of applicants, compared to 34 per cent this time last year.

Ann Landels, director of Crisis in Scotland, said: “It is very good news to see the number of people coming to their council as homeless falling yet again in Scotland, but challenges remain. Homeless people are now more likely to face multiple difficulties such as mental or physical health problems. They are more likely to have faced homelessness more than once.

“People need to get proper, joined up support at the right time that addresses the reasons they have become homeless. This, combined with the settled housing to which they are entitled, means people can move out of homelessness for good. The longer people remain homeless, the more damage is done and the harder it becomes to help them rebuild their lives.”

The Scottish Government was praised by homelessness organisations including Crisis when it enacted legislation in 2013 that entitled anyone finding themselves homeless through no fault of their own to permanent settled accommodation. Previously, single homeless people had to prove themselves particularly vulnerable in order to qualify for such help.



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