Shelter Scotland condemns Scottish Government over failure to protect the homeless

Shelter Scotland has condemned the Scottish Government for its decision to break a promise to homeless people to end the continued use of harmful and substandard temporary accommodation.

The charity has said that the ongoing delay to fully implement new protections for homeless people will place a further burden on some of the people most at risk in society, effectively leaving many to bear the brunt of the crisis without being able to access the accommodation they require and are entitled to.

Since 2014, the Unsuitable Accommodation Order (UAO) has protected pregnant women and families with children who are homeless from being stuck in hotels and B&Bs, for more than a week. The policy recognises that hotels and B&Bs are not a home and that long-term stays in such accommodation is harmful to people’s life chances. That was why, before the pandemic, Scottish Minsters had already promised to extend this protection to all homeless people from May 2021.

At the start of lockdown, in response to the pandemic, the Scottish Housing Minister then promised to bring these protections forward to ensure everyone is entitled to a decent temporary home.

This provision for all homeless people was supposed to come into effect in September 2020, but, this week, the Scottish Government announced a third delay – until June 2021 – following on from a previous delay of three months until the end of last month.

Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland director, said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government has once again chosen to not prioritise the rights of homeless individuals in the midst of a pandemic. The opportunity to make sure that homeless households are prioritised and have suitable temporary accommodation that meets their needs when they are in a housing crisis has been missed once again.

“We are nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, yet not enough has been done to get people into the settled homes they need to stay safe. The Scottish Government and Local Authorities must outline what they plan to do between now and June to make sure suitable accommodation is there for everyone who needs it.”

“Being placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation can have a significant impact on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of individuals, and when people report that they feel safer sleeping rough – even in winter – rather than being in this temporary accommodation, it is very clear that some temporary accommodation is not fit for purpose and leaves people at high risk of harm.”

She added: “This is the reality of unsuitable temporary accommodation and by extending the Unsuitable Accommodation Order exemptions yet again, this gives a green light to Local Authorities to put more homeless people into these precarious situations.

“It is decisions such as the one taken by Ministers this week which highlights why Shelter Scotland is calling upon the Scottish Government to commit to building at least 37,100 social rented homes in the next parliament to help to protect people from homelessness, reduce housing need, provide hope for people struggling to get by, to secure jobs and reinvigorate our communities across the country.”

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “Since March, the Scottish Government’s priority has been to keep people safe from coronavirus. Extending the temporary exceptions has ensured that no-one has been left behind. Knowing where people are living has also allowed wider multi-agency support to be provided, including setting up a pathway into settled accommodation. We know that our actions have ensured people have a safe and secure place to live, and are not rough sleeping, or relying on night shelters, during the winter months and specifically with the current weather.

“The Scottish Government has been working with local authorities directly and through the housing options hubs to continually discuss the situation around temporary accommodation with them and also frontline organisations who work with homeless people day in day out to make sure that people are kept safe and secure and moved into settled accommodation as quickly as possible.”

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