5-minute briefing: the unsuitable accommodation order

This week, the covid-related exemptions in the order were extended again to September 2021. The order has been at the forefront of housing and homelessness policy due to the progressive outcomes for people it intends to achieve, balanced with the additional housing pressures on local councils as a consequence of the pandemic.

About the Order

In September 2019, the Scottish Government’s programme for government committed to legislate to extend the Unsuitable Accommodation Order to all homeless households in the parliamentary year and that it would come into force within the parliamentary term. The order was previously limited to households with dependent children and/or with a pregnant household member.

This followed a key recommendation from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group in 2018 and a Scottish Government consultation on improving temporary accommodation standards that ran during the summer of 2019.

In May 2020, the Homeless Person’s (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2020 – commonly referred to as the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, or ‘UAO’ – makes the most significant change to the Order since it first came into force in 2004.

It means that no household can be placed in temporary accommodation for more than 7 days if:

  • It is not wind and watertight, meet minimum safety standards, or is not suitable for occupation by a homeless household.
  • It is in a different local authority area and/or too far from the health and education services people use, or not in the locality of a place of employment (considering reasonable public transport links).
  • It lacks adequate bedrooms, toilet and personal washing facilities for the exclusive use of the household.
  • It does not have the use of adequate cooking facilities and the use of a living room.
  • It is not usable by the household for 24 hours a day.
  • It is not suitable for visitation by a child who is not a member of the household and in respect of whom a member of the household has parental rights.

In practical terms, unsuitable temporary accommodation usually means B&B accommodation, hostels, shelters and – with significantly increased use during the pandemic – commercial hotels. A local authority placing a homeless household in accommodation not meeting these requirements for more than 7 days will be a breach of the Order.

Are there any exemptions?

There are a number of exemptions to the Order in relation to particular homelessness situations, particular types of accommodation, and the particular situation in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic.  These exemptions include situations where:

  • The household became homeless as a result of an emergency situation such as fire, flood, or other disaster.
  • The household has been offered accommodation that is suitable but requests the accommodation that does not meet the requirements.
  • The accommodation is used wholly or mainly to provide temporary accommodation to people who have left their homes as a result of domestic abuse and is managed by an organisation which (i) is not a public authority or a local authority; and (ii) does not trade for profit.
  • The local authority has secured that the accommodation has been made available and services relating to health, childcare or family welfare are provided to people accommodated there.
  • the accommodation made available (i) is shared tenancy accommodation which is shared, small-scale and of a good standard; (ii) consists of community hosting where the homeless household stays for a short period of time in a spare bedroom in the home of a community member; or (iii) is rapid access accommodation which offers emergency temporary accommodation.

And covid-related exemptions:

The restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic led the Scottish Government to put in place a series of exemptions to allow local authorities to provide accommodation during the crisis without breaching the Order. 

These exemptions were due to expire at the end of January 2021, but the Scottish Government, in consultation with local authorities, created a further extension until the end of June 2021 – and then extended again in May 2021 to September 2021.

The exemptions are when:

  • A person in the household has symptoms of coronavirus and the household requires to isolate.
  • The accommodation is required to provide temporary accommodation to ensure that a distance of 2 metres can be maintained between a member of the household and a person who is not a member of the household, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
  • A local authority is unable to make a suitable placement as a result of the impact of coronavirus on the supply of temporary accommodation in the area, provided that where a household includes a child or a pregnant woman the household is not placed in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days.

In these circumstances, and to 30 September 2021, it is not a breach of the order if a local authority provides temporary accommodation that is considered unsuitable. A household placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation for more than seven days will be recorded as a breach of the UAO.

The Scottish Housing Regulator has also confirmed it will take account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic when it assesses local authorities’ performance in complying with the UAO.