Housing (Scotland) Bill published

Today is a landmark moment for homelessness prevention with the introduction to the Scottish Parliament of the long-awaited Housing (Scotland) Bill.

As expected, the Bill contains new ‘Ask and Act’ duties which make preventing homelessness a shared responsibility across the public sector. The overarching policy objective of the homelessness prevention measures is to shift the focus away from crisis intervention and towards prevention activity which can eliminate the need for a household to go through the trauma of homelessness in the first place, but without diluting the existing rights for people who are homeless.

Simply, this will mean relevant bodies ask a person about their housing situation and take action to prevent homelessness. While one action can be a referral to the local authority’s homelessness teams, this should not be the default action. The relevant bodies are:

  • Health Boards
  • Special Health Boards
  • Integration Joint Boards (IJBs)
  • Local authorities
  • Police Service
  • Registered Social Landlords
  • Scottish Ministers’ functions relating to people in prison and young offenders institutions

It is worth noting that the list of relevant bodies to which the duties will apply can be modified by secondary legislation.

This new measure would be welcome at any time, but in the midst of a housing and cost-of-living crisis and with homelessness numbers rising, bolstering homelessness prevention activity is an urgent necessity.

Around £8m has been identified by Scottish Government as estimated costs for the Bill over 3 years from 2025-28. It must be noted that the success of the duties to prevent homelessness are dependent not just on the right financial memorandum to deliver, but access to adequate affordable and social housing.

Homeless Network Scotland is especially proud of Ask and Act given the fundamental role the All in for Change team of people with lived and frontline experience of homelessness played in developing this measure. It’s an exciting moment for the Change Team and a testament to their expertise.

Other key parts of the Bill are:

Changes to existing homelessness legislation to require local authorities to act sooner to prevent homelessness. This will ensure an assessment can be made of whether a household is threatened with homelessness up to 6 months before homelessness appears imminent (a change from two months as required by current legislation) and clarify ‘reasonable steps’ local authorities should take.

New steps aimed at preventing homelessness for people affected by domestic abuse – the biggest cause of homelessness for women. Changes to existing legislation will be made to update the definition of domestic abuse as it applies within a housing context. In addition, a requirement will be placed on all social landlords to develop and implement a domestic abuse policy setting out how they will support their tenants who are at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic abuse.

A new requirement for a local authority’s local housing strategy to include an assessment of the support needs that local people have and the availability of housing support services.

A new power for Scottish Ministers to introduce rent control areas, with local authorities required to carry out an assessment of conditions in relation to rent in their area and make a recommendation about whether Scottish Ministers should impose rent controls in all or part of the area.

This is just the first step. Homeless Network Scotland looks forward to engaging with colleagues and partners to discuss and scrutinise the Bill and its implications as it progresses through the Scottish Parliament.

Read the bill