Regulator publishes findings of inquiry into Glasgow City Council’s homelessness services

Glasgow City Council failed to ensure it had enough suitable temporary accommodation prior to the coronavirus pandemic and did not provide temporary accommodation to significant numbers of people when they needed it, the Scottish Housing Regulator has found.

Publishing the findings of its inquiry into the council’s services for people experiencing homelessness, the Regulator added that in some cases the people not accommodated were vulnerable and had approached the council for accommodation on multiple occasions. 

The Regulator said: “Prior to the pandemic there was a disconnect between the council’s stated strategy and policy on homelessness and the practice in its service delivery about meeting its legal duties in relation to temporary accommodation. Notwithstanding its work to increase the pool of temporary furnished accommodation in previous years, the council did not have enough suitable temporary accommodation to meet the need from people who approached it with nowhere to stay.”

It added: “The council told us that it faces challenges in providing temporary accommodation and that it is working to address this through its Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan (RRTP). However, we found an acceptance in the council’s management of presentations by people with nowhere to stay that it could not always comply with its duty to provide temporary accommodation.

“We saw evidence of the council’s staff working hard to accommodate people and meet their needs within this, although they were not always able to do so given the inadequate supply of suitable temporary accommodation.”

The inquiry did find, however, that the council has made some important improvements to its service since the Regulator’s last inquiry. The council has also ensured that it offers temporary accommodation to almost all people who require it during the pandemic.

The Regulator stated: “Following the council’s introduction of a new approach to managing applications, we observed interviews with people presenting as homeless in which the council’s caseworkers took a homelessness application, made necessary inquiries, told the person the outcome, and completed a resettlement plan, all in the same day. Both the people applying for help and the council’s staff were positive about the new approach.

“The council is continuing to work with the consultants to review the management of temporary accommodation and the process for referring people to RSLs for settled accommodation.”

The Regulator added that these improvements are “important building blocks” to help the council tackle the weaknesses in its service, but the pace of change since March 2018 has been “slow”.

The Regulator had planned to carry out its inquiry between December 2019 and May 2020 but was unable to undertake the full range of work due to the pandemic. The report sets out the findings from its work before the pandemic, where its focus was the council’s compliance with its statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation and the council’s response to the Regulator’s last inquiry in March 2018.

The report describes how the council’s service has responded to the pandemic and the significant challenges the council now faces to provide temporary accommodation and settled accommodation.

It also recognised the challenges facing the council in delivering an effective service for people who are experiencing homelessness, in particular, the “significant” scale of homelessness presentations in the city.

In 2019/20, the council took 6,054 applications for assistance from people who were homeless, an average of 504 each month. This was 370 (7%) more than the previous year. Glasgow received 16.4% of all homelessness applications taken by councils in Scotland.

During 2019/20, the council assessed 5,262 people as unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness, and 2,488 (47%) of these households said they had one or more support needs (such as mental health problems, drug or alcohol dependency, physical or learning disability, or basic housing management/independent living skills). This was 380 (18%) more than the previous year and 16% of all households assessed as having one or more support need by local authorities in Scotland.

Michael Cameron, the Regulator’s chief executive, said: “The council has undertaken and continues to undertake a wide programme of improvement and transformation activity as part of its Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan. It has made some important improvements in its service.

“The council should address the weaknesses we identified in its approach to temporary accommodation to help it build on and sustain compliance with its statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation and prepare for the extension of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order. It should ensure that it has an adequate level of suitable temporary accommodation which meets the diverse needs of people experiencing homelessness.

“We expect the council to ensure that its recovery plans address the weaknesses in its approach to temporary accommodation.”

Glasgow City Council told Scottish Housing News that it welcomes the report and its recognition that improvements have been made to its homelessness service in spite of the challenges.  

A spokeswoman said: “Glasgow receives 16.4% of all homelessness applications in Scotland and during April and August 2020, the council received an average of 481 homeless applications per month. Despite COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the team made almost 6000 offers of temporary accommodation and completed 1300 resettlement plans during that period - managing to maintain 95% of usual business.

“The service has improved in several areas, including preventing the cycle of repeat homelessness, however, our biggest challenge remains our access to temporary accommodation. This cannot be solved overnight. The council does not have its own housing stock, so we will continue to work with the city’s 68 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and City Building to bring quality temporary accommodation back into use as quickly as possible.

“We remain committed to working in partnership with the third sector and RSLs on a range of improvements we are making through our Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan, our new Alliancing model and Housing First. We are pleased that this is an area the Regulator has also highlighted improvements in.”

Shelter Scotland, which launched legal action against Glasgow City Council over its practice of ‘gatekeeping’ – where people who present as homeless are refused their legal rights, said the Regulator’s report confirms that the council failed in its legal duties to homeless people.

The charity highlighted “alarming evidence” in the report of families with children being turned away without the council knowing where they would sleep that night, and of single people being sent to sleep on the streets with the council’s knowledge.

While acknowledging the report’s positive developments, including the hiring of 17 new staff and an increase in the number of lets from housing associations, Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said it’s clear that the council was seriously failing before coronavirus hit.

Ms Watson added: “This report confirms the systemic failure of Glasgow City Council’s homelessness services, which has led to thousands of people being denied their legal rights.

“We took legal action last year because we’d had enough of the council routinely breaking the law and forcing people onto the streets. This inquiry wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the thousands of people who supported our action, in Glasgow and beyond.

“We’ll now take the time to carefully reflect on the report and assess what needs to happen next. We welcome the Regulator’s findings and recommendations and look forward to meeting to discuss the issues further. The test will be how Glasgow City Council responds positively to this unprecedented intervention.

“Our shared goal must be to ensure that everyone who presents to the council as homeless is provided with the safe and suitable accommodation they’re legally entitled to.”

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