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End homelessness in Scotland by acting early, experts urge Government

A major new report from the Homelessness Prevention Group makes proposals which could have wide-ranging impact on homelessness in Scotland.
The Homeless Bill of Rights has already been adopted by 45 European cities. "Homeless Rough Sleeper" by Deadly Sirius is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Early intervention and legal support is the key to ending homelessness in Scotland, independent experts have told the Government, in major new proposals which could both help people and save money.

The report from the Homelessness Prevention Group recommends giving local authorities a legal responsibility to ensure people don’t leave institutions without a home to go to and encourages taking action “up to six months before someone faces losing their home”. Implementing the measures would make Scotland a “world leader” in preventing homelessness, the authors add.

Around 8 per cent of people in Scotland have experienced homelessness, according to government research.

It is “all too common for someone to reach crisis point before they get the help they need,” group chair Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick said.

“The homelessness system should become the safety net it was intended to be rather than a default response to housing problems.”

Proposals put forward by the group could “radically change the face of the homelessness system in Scotland,” she added.

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Members want the temporary measures put in place to protect private renters during the pandemic, such as six months’ notice before eviction and landlords working with them to set up an arrears payment plan, to be made permanent.

And if a landlord is likely to evict their tenant but thinks the person could fall into homelessness, they should be required to make a referral to the local authority, the experts said.

The recommendations will shape future legislation in Scotland. Welcoming the report, housing minister Kevin Stewart said Holyrood would work with local authorities to “put these proposals into action” and named ending homelessness as a priority for the Scottish Government. 

Local authorities should be legally required to help anyone in hospital who will be discharged within six months and is at risk of homelessness, according to the report, citing concerns about people who leave institutions and are left to fend for themselves.

And if a GP learns about housing problems from a patient, they must be required to pass the issue on to the council, the experts said.

The Homelessness Prevention Group – made up of councils, housing and social care experts plus people who have experienced homelessness in Scotland – was set up at the Scottish Government’s request and convened by charity Crisis.

Having worked in the sector for more than 10 years I have become increasingly frustrated with the existing legislative framework,” said Lisa Punton, housing services manager for East Ayrshire Council. 

“In providing such a strong safety net for people experiencing homelessness something of what we were trying to achieve, which is to prevent it, was lost.

“If we really want to end homelessness those with lived experience must always have a seat at the table. People who have experienced services can tell us how these impact on their lives amid crisis and trauma.”

Councillor Kelly Parry, the community wellbeing spokesperson for local authorities in Scotland, said councils would work on the proposals with the Government over the coming months.