Changes to homelessness legislation in Scotland

Suspending Local Connection
Understanding whether someone has a Local Connection to the council area they are making a homelessness application has been one of the main tests of homelessness legislation since it was introduced. Local Connection is established through normally being resident in an area (currently or in the past), being employed or having family associations in the area, or other exceptional circumstances.

Households assessed as homeless, but with no Local Connection, will generally be provided with temporary accommodation by the local authority they applied to, but the duty for permanent housing will lie with the local authority with which the household has a connection. This does not apply when people cannot stay in a particular local authority area for safety reasons.

While the number of people affected by the Local Connection test may be relatively small, it can negatively impact on people whose experience of homelessness is compounded by other issues such as addictions or mental ill health, who struggle to find a sustainable housing solution that also meets their health and care needs (e.g. being offered permanent housing in an area they cannot access a local recovery networks).

The Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 legislated for this test to be removed from homelessness legislation in Scotland, but the legal provision has yet to be enacted.

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group recommended suspending local connection rules, and this was accepted by the Scottish Government, which agreed that better housing outcomes are more likely to be achieved through increased choice for the households affected, rather than a strict application of a legislative test. While it had been intended that the new rules would come into force in Spring 2021, the Scottish Government has delayed the implementation until there is more clarity about the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions and people are able to move more freely across the country.

Unsuitable Accommodation Order
The Unsuitable Accommodation Order governs placements in temporary accommodation for all homeless households in Scotland, having been extended in 2020 to widen the scope beyond homeless households containing dependent children and/or pregnant women. The revised Order defines what unsuitable means and requires that no household be placed in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days.

The revised Order sets out a series of exemptions, including Shared Tenancies, Community Hosting, and Rapid Access Accommodation, while also putting in place additional temporary exemptions that aim to allow local authorities to respond to the public health crisis without breaching the Order. These temporary exemptions have been further extended until 31 June 2021. Newly published guidance on the implementation of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order can be found here