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Homelessness prevention duties and social landlords

Ruth Whatling, Homeless Network Scotland’s new Head of Policy and Equality outlines the implications of the joint COSLA/Scottish Government prevention of homelessness duties consultation for housing associations. SFHA is holding a roundtable with Homeless Network Scotland on 16 March to discuss the consultation.

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One of the key underpinning principles agreed by the homelessness Prevention Review Group (PRG) is that homelessness prevention should be a wider public responsibility than currently. The PRG recognised that social landlords are well placed to carry out work which prevents homelessness and that much of existing good tenancy management practice may already help achieve this, especially work to address rent arrears and anti-social behaviour.

The proposals set out mechanisms to strengthen and clarify requirements that already exist for social landlords. Broadly, the changes proposed are that the legislation should be amended to require that:

  • risk of homelessness should be identified much earlier than currently required – six months before a crisis. Ways in which landlords should do this should be set out in the legislation
  • reasonable steps landlords must take to prevent homelessness should be prescribed in the legislation
  • landlords should refer households to their local authority if the reasonable steps taken are not successful in preventing homelessness. The current Section 11 process should be strengthened and started earlier
  • landlords should put in place protocols to address housing issues relating to domestic abuse, in recognition that domestic abuse is the leading cause of women’s homelessness.

The intention behind these proposals is to formalise responsibilities to prevent homelessness as duties so that social landlords act within their powers to identify and mitigate the risk of homelessness as early as possible, including the separate risks resulting from rent arrears, neighbour and relationship concerns, domestic abuse, and risk to tenancy due to impending court action.

How to identify who is at risk of homelessness

Where a social landlord identifies circumstances which may lead to a risk of homelessness, including:

  • rent arrears or other financial difficulty which may give rise to risk of homelessness (i.e., before difficulties have led to impending homelessness such as eviction action or abandonment)
  • tenant behaviour or action which may give rise to risk of homelessness
  • other circumstances, including domestic abuse, or court proceedings, for example, relating to criminal charges, which may give rise to a loss of accommodation due to remand or imprisonment.

The social landlord must take relevant reasonable steps to mitigate that risk

Reasonable steps social landlords should take to end homelessness, include:

  • housing management practices to sustain tenancies
  • engaging with the tenant to address relevant financial circumstances
  • engaging the tenant to address behaviour
  • putting in place protocols to address relevant circumstances and mitigate risk of homelessness at an early stage, including protocols relating to domestic abuse
  • where tenants face court proceedings.

Have your say:

SFHA is hosting a roundtable discussion on the proposals on 16 March at 16:00 to discuss the joint consultation by the Scottish Government and COSLA on the prevention of homelessness duties. The session will be hosted by Eileen McMullan, Policy Lead at SFHA, with contributions from Matt Howarth from the Scottish Government’s Homelessness Prevention Team; and Maggie Brunjes, Chief Executive, Homeless Network Scotland.

You can register here.

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