Housing Support and the Housing Bill

The Housing (Scotland) Bill has now been published, with important new implications for providers of housing support.

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The Housing (Scotland) Bill was published on the 27th of March. Informed by three public consultations, the Bill will now be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill, Financial Memorandum, and Policy Memorandum are available here.

The Unit responded to the joint Call for Views from the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee and the Social Justice and Social Security Committee: HSEU Response to the Call for Views

The Unit’s response to the Call for Views focused on the provisions in the Bill around Homelessness Prevention and housing support. Overall, the Unit is supportive of an improved focus on the prevention of homelessness across public bodies. It is important that the proposed ask and act duties take account of the housing support needs of people facing homelessness.

With housing support as a key preventative tool to enable people to maintain independent living and their own tenancy, providers are supportive of proposals to improve early intervention. By providing support that is responsive to people’s individual needs, housing support can help avoid escalation and reduce demands on statutory services. The prevention of homelessness is not only a housing issue, and to effectively prevent homelessness, there must be effective partnership working between housing, health, and social care.

 

Duty on Local Authorities to Assess Housing Support Need and Availability of Services

Provisions in the Bill include a requirement that local housing strategies must include an assessment of the housing support needs of people in the local authority and the availability of housing support services in relation to homelessness. The Unit is supportive of this proposed new duty, with providers expressing concern around current access to support. However, in the current proposals, it is unclear how this local authority assessment would be linked with the ask and act duty, or provision of services. Housing support providers have reported that a lack of consistent approaches in service provision brings challenges for providing effective support. Many providers have received funding on a year-on-year basis, which doesn’t allow strategic planning, and results in uncertainty of service provision and employment.[1]High-quality support relies on relationship-building and trust, which is facilitated through adequate and sustainable funding. A local authority assessment of housing support need and availability of services could be used to provide multi-year funding for necessary services to meet local need.

 

New Prevention Duties

The Bill also contains new ‘ask and act’ duties, to work towards a more shared responsibility for preventing homelessness. This will mean that relevant public bodies will ask about a person’s housing situation and act to avoid them becoming homeless wherever possible.

Early intervention is beneficial, not only for the people who are supported to maintain independent living or their own tenancy, but also from a cost-savings perspective. However, it is crucial that the ‘ask and act duty’ includes asking people facing homelessness about their housing support needs.

While the new prevention duties are promising, it will be important for relevant bodies to have proper resource to allow for training and action to reduce the threat of homelessness. The support work undertaken by housing support providers is specialist and person-centred. While there is some recognition in the proposals and financial memorandum that housing associations already undertake tenancy sustainment work, the proposals do not take into account the current funding pressures facing housing associations and other providers of housing support. Furthermore, the support needs of some people facing homelessness will go beyond the scope of the often short-term tenancy sustainment offered by housing associations, and will include more complex mental health needs. Research from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence found that the funding sources of housing support services are often not clear [2].  Housing support funding has been cut, and tenancy sustainment and support activities are not sustainable without a clear funding source. Housing support providers anticipate more approaches for support in relation to the duties. In addition, housing associations that provide housing support and will be subject to the proposed ask and act duties, may be required to expand existing housing support services, in order to minimise the threat of homelessness. Therefore, the ask and act duties for relevant bodies must be properly resourced, with adequate funding to enable housing support provision to support independent living.

[1] https://www.ccpscotland.org/hseu-news/what-is-the-impact-of-the-current-system-of-funding-housing-support/

[2] https://housingevidence.ac.uk/publications/economic-benefits-of-housing-support/