Change at top must not derail homelessness fight

The collapse of the Bute House agreement, Humza Yousaf’s abrupt resignation as First Minister and the following period of renewal and change in government are drawing attention and energy away from the urgent task of addressing the housing crisis and ending homelessness. Homeless Network Scotland’s Jamie Milne sets out what needs to happen once the dust settles.

All change then. After little more than a year in the top job Humza Yousaf resigned as First Minister and we’re in another period of uncertainty – a new FM, return to minority government, new faces around the Cabinet table making decisions that affect our lives. 

That’s politics. But these things eat up time and energy while the housing crisis deepens.  

What has not changed is rising homelessness, the 10,000 children living in temporary accommodation, the mental toll on people waiting for social or affordable homes, the desperate lives of people trapped in difficult or dangerous situations because there’s nowhere else to go. 

Politics will dominate the news in weeks to come. But beyond the headlines we have a potentially game-changing Housing Bill in the early stages of the process towards becoming law.  

Progress towards this point must not be unravelled by politics. Once the dust settles, all parties must sharpen their focus on protecting the proposals in the Bill – not least the Ask and Act measures to prevent homelessness earlier, which will stand or fall on how they are resourced. 

Reversing the £200million cut to affordable homes in the Budget must also be at the top of the new First Minister’s in-tray.  

What better way to signal a new direction than to make it easier for people to find a decent home so they can build the foundations of a life? What better way to ease housing pressures on local authorities doing their best for people in urban and rural areas? 

The cost-of-living crisis, global events and the pandemic have played their part in stoking housing pressures, but we are not powerless to solve this, as 25 years of devolution shows. 

The new First Minister can re-energise our collective effort to end homelessness by explicitly making this his top priority.  

By finding common ground and working together, all parties at Holyrood can make the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to end homelessness and destitution a reality – and ensure this period of uncertainty does not make things worse.

All in for Change Top Table briefing

The latest All in for Change briefing to the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group sets out what the Change Team wants the Scottish Government to know about and prioritise to bring about positive change in homelessness services.

April’s report also shares some of what the team learned about the state of homelessness services – the good and not so good – during the recent Roadshow, which visited five locations. This snapshot of what’s happening came through interactions with more than 100 people who came to the events, including many frontline workers.

Read the report [PDF] to find out what the team’s top priorities are and more.

Housing emergencies: Argyll & Bute charts way forward

Argyll and Bute Council has detailed key outcomes from a Housing Summit held after it declared a housing emergency last year. The summit brought together 90 partners from public, private, third and community sectors who pledged their support to take action to address the housing shortage. Read more here.

Edinburgh and Glasgow also declared housing emergencies at the end of last year. In Glasgow, The Ferret news outlet and Greater Govanhill Community Magazine recently hosted an Open House session for experts, local people and people working in the housing and homelessness sectors to explore issues and solutions. Read a summary of the event.

Meanwhile, Fife has become the latest local authority to follow suit and declare its own housing emergency amid “unprecedented pressure” on housing and homelessness systems in the area.

The council recently agreed a three-year plan to tackle homelessness which highlighted the need for an estimated £67.3 million to help the escalating number of families without permanent housing. Full details here.

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