Scottish Government has ‘backtracked’ on homeless protections

Shelter Scotland has criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to “backtrack on its promise” to homeless people to end the continued use of temporary accommodation during lockdown.

Scottish Government has 'backtracked' on homeless protections

Since 2014, the Unsuitable Accommodation Order has protected pregnant women and families with children who are homeless from being stuck in hotels or B&Bs, for more than a week. The policy recognises that hotels are not a home and that long term stays in such accommodation is harmful to people’s life chances.

Before the pandemic, Scottish ministers promised to extend this protection to all homeless people from May 2021.

At the start of lockdown, in response to fears over how homeless people could socially distance when sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities, Scottish ministers promised to bring the protections forward. The extension was supposed to come into effect in September, but the Scottish Government announced a three-month delay to January 2021.

This week, however, a Scottish Statutory Instrument has been published which would delay the implementation by a further six months, to June 2021.

Commenting on the decision, Shelter Scotland director, Alison Watson, said: “The Scottish Government has again gone back on its promise to extend vital protections to all homeless people.

“This extension gives councils a license to put people in crisis in sub-standard temporary accommodation like hotels and B&Bs, which will harm their mental and physical health.

“Our message to Government is clear: no more excuses, no more delays. We have enough homes to get people out of unsuitable temporary accommodation, but people who are homeless are not being prioritised. This isn’t about capacity, it’s about political will.

“The Scottish Government must immediately end the use of exemptions to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order and ensure that Local Authorities have the support and resources they require to get people into decent temporary accommodation.

Ms Watson added: “Ministers should also set up a temporary accommodation taskforce to take a national view on demand for and supply of temporary accommodation. As a priority, this taskforce should consider ways to secure more social housing tenancies for people who are homeless.”

The Scottish Government said the extension was necessary due to the increased protections needed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson told Scottish Housing News: “Temporary accommodation can offer an important emergency safety net for anyone who finds themselves homeless, but it should be a purely temporary measure. That’s why we announced in May that we would be extending the unsuitable accommodation order to all homeless households, a year ahead of when we originally planned to.

“However, as the pandemic worsens and variant strains of the virus are now moving throughout Scotland the threat to public health is considerable. This is why we are extending the temporary exceptions until the end of June to allow stays in emergency temporary accommodation in response to COVID-19 and to ensure that public health is prioritised.

“We are committed to ending homelessness and have allocated £37.5 million to support councils to prioritise settled housing for all.”

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