CHAPTER 10 - ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE
10.1 Summary - this chapter explains the legislation on, and gives guidance on, the scope of local authorities' advice and assistance duties under the 1987 Act. Good quality advice and assistance play a key role in preventing homelessness, alleviating it when it does occur and helping people to sustain their accommodation and is an important element of local homelessness strategies.
10.2 Offering good quality advice and assistance involves not only implementing the regulations but should involve the local authority being proactive in its approach and actively seeking a resolution to the applicant's needs.
10.3 Local authorities should also have regard to their wider duty under section 2 of the 2001 Act to secure that:
- advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness; and
- any services which may assist a homeless person or assist in the prevention of homelessness is available free of charge to any person in the authority's area.
Separate guidance has been issued on this duty. The guidance requires that local authorities ensure that provision meets the standards set out in The Scottish National Standards and Good Practice Guidance for Housing Information and Advice Services. The principles for good quality provision are:
- Equal opportunities - by meeting the needs of the whole community, regardless of tenure, location, ethnicity and particular needs.
- Accessibility - by being available to all and provided in locations and using methods and forms of dissemination that are appropriate to particular needs.
- User-centred services - by ensuring that advice puts the needs of the service user first and is free of the views, prejudices or vested interest of the adviser or agency.
- Choice - by offering as far as possible a range of providers, including at least one that is independent of the providers of housing services, which can advocate on behalf of service users.
- Confidentiality - through clear policies that guarantee users privacy and confidentiality as well as access to their personal files.
- Accountability - by ensuring clarity and transparency of purpose, activity and accountability to stakeholders, including service users, the general public, commissioners and relevant interest groups (whether community-based or national bodies or professional associations).
- Best value and effectiveness - by optimising:
- resource use through ensuring management effectiveness
- effective and integrated services through joint working and sharing of information, training and expertise
- professional competence, by ensuring staff have access to training, information resources, effective and supportive case management and opportunities for networking and liaison
- best practice, by adopting and implementing the Standards and other relevant standards of competence.
- Reflective services - through comprehensive monitoring of casework and ensuring opportunities for user feedback to inform service review and development.
10.4 The local authority also has general powers under section 88 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 to give advice, either directly or through other bodies, on other matters relating to local government services, such as community care (for example, alcohol or drugs issues, disability, old age, mental health) or other services such as welfare rights, debt advice or environmental health services.
10.5 The nature of the advice and assistance needed by a person who is homeless or faces homelessness is likely to vary from local authority to local authority, and from case to case. Advice should be individually tailored and should be wide-ranging and comprehensive. It should respond to the whole needs of the individual and involve the range of allied services to meet these needs either locally or nationally.
10.6 Advice to homeless people should be part of a general strategy for the provision of housing advice, including support for independent agencies where appropriate. Homelessness officers should be able to deal with at least the main non-housing items likely to arise on the spot, but should also know when and how to refer people to other advice agencies for specialist advice.
10.7 Advice and assistance must be available and accessible to all people. This may require the use of interpreters, translations of documents and material being available in alternative formats ( Braille or audiotape) when appropriate.
10.8 Applicants receiving advice and assistance remain responsible for obtaining, or retaining, accommodation themselves (although the local authority must provide temporary accommodation for a sufficient period to give the applicant a reasonable opportunity to secure their own accommodation). However, local authorities should respond in a proactive way, actively assisting applicants, with the aim of ensuring that applicants find accommodation with security of tenure.
10.9 Under the 1987 Act, if a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless but either:
- is not satisfied that he or she has priority need; or
- is satisfied that he or she has priority need but became homeless intentionally;
then the local authority's duty under sections 31(3) and (4) of the Act is to ensure that the applicant is given at minimum advice and assistance as set out in the guidance referred to in paragraph 10.3 in any attempts the applicant makes to secure accommodation.
10.10 Where the conditions set out above apply to an applicant who is threatened with homelessness, under section 32(3) advice and assistance has to be provided to help that person to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available for their occupation. This need not be their existing home, but this is usually the best option. If the period is greater than two months then the local authority should nonetheless actively seek to prevent homelessness occurring. In such cases local authorities should ensure they are assisted in gaining access to appropriate services.
10.11 Section 35(1)(c) of the 1987 Act indicates that a local authority may fulfil duties to secure accommodation for an applicant by providing advice and assistance to enable him or her to obtain accommodation from another housing provider.
10.12 In fulfilling this duty the local authority should actively assist the applicant to make contact with alternative housing providers (for example by offering to make an appointment for them). Local authorities need to ensure that information about other providers is regularly kept up to date. Local authorities should consider developing a housing options guide which clearly outlines the options open to any person in housing need in their local area, including for example different tenure options and access to appropriate grants.
10.13 The Homeless Persons Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 2002 ( SSI 2002 No.414) prescribe the types of advice and assistance that local authorities must provide at minimum to homeless applicants and applicants threatened with homelessness who are either not in priority need or, if in priority need, have become homeless intentionally. Below, these categories of advice and assistance as prescribed in the regulations are set out in bold.
10.14 The advice to be provided is:
- Housing advice appropriate to local housing conditions and the applicant's circumstances which may include:
- Advice on the availability of permanent accommodation provided by local authorities or registered social landlords;
- Advice on the availability of temporary accommodation provided by local authorities, registered social landlords and other private, public or voluntary bodies;
- Advice on nomination procedures, waiting lists and any restrictions imposed by landlords;
- Advice on specialist, supported or furnished accommodation;
- Advice on services provided by estate agents and accommodation agencies; and
- Advice on owner occupation including shared ownership and the availability of grants for owner occupation, improvement, repair and adaptation.
10.15 In giving housing advice the authority should include information on:
- how long it may take to be offered one of the local authority's own houses;
- the possibilities (including the risks) of taking a tenancy or flat in the private rented sector and advice about both assured tenancies and short assured tenancies;
- private landlords who let out rooms and any restrictions they may impose;
- accommodation agencies or estate agencies which provide services without charge or with minimal charges. It is illegal for accommodation agencies to charge for finding accommodation; and
- the possibilities of accessing licensed houses in multiple occupation where appropriate.
10.16 Good liaison with other housing providers should be maintained, and local authorities should be able to direct applicants to accommodation which the homelessness officer knows to be suitable and to have vacancies. A common housing register, or at least a common database on available accommodation, may be helpful in achieving this. Both private and social housing providers should be covered.
- Advice on social issues appropriate to an applicant's circumstances including advice on services provided by specialist agencies or bodies dealing with health, welfare or other social issues. This should include advice on support and care packages to enable people to sustain tenancies.
- Financial advice appropriate to an applicant's circumstances, which may include -
- advice on the availability of personal benefits, grants and loans directly or indirectly related to the provision of housing;
- advice on rent and mortgage arrears and the financial implications of home ownership;
- advice on the management of personal finance;
- advice on rent guarantee and deposit schemes; and
- advice on specialist agencies providing financial advice to individuals.
10.17 Rent guarantee and deposit schemes may help homeless people to obtain accommodation in the private rented sector. In securing private rented sector accommodation every effort should be made to maximise security of tenure.
- Legal advice appropriate to an applicant's circumstances which may include:
- advice on court proceedings;
- advice on legal rights including -
- advice on the availability of legal aid; and
- advice on the availability of independent advice and advocacy.
10.18 Many legal matters affect housing. Probably the most important arise for tenants faced with eviction, and tenants should be advised that a court order will almost always be required in addition to a notice to quit, and an order will be granted by the court (in respect of any type of tenancy) only if the landlord proves his or her case, and usually only on a limited number of grounds. A court order may also be required in most cases where there is no formal tenancy agreement. Legal advice on whether an action can be defended is important.
10.19 The types of assistance set out in regulation that must be provided by local authorities are:
- providing a personal interview at such a time and place, and with a local authority officer of such sex, as the applicant may reasonably request;
- providing an interpreter or an independent personal representative for an applicant at any interview if a request is made by the applicant to that effect;
Any appointment should be set up at a time convenient both for the applicant and their personal representative
- providing a written record of any interview held under this regulation in an appropriate form for the applicant including Braille, translation or large print;
- providing a follow up interview to review progress;
This should normally be held within 4 weeks, regardless of whether the applicant has requested it.
- arranging and facilitating interviews and appointments with other independent providers of housing financial or legal services; and
- providing access to mediation services for family and neighbour disputes and harassment.
10.20 Local authorities should bear in mind that temporary accommodation arrangements may well result in the applicant becoming homeless again, thus creating both problems for the applicant and renewed expense for the public purse. If resources permit, and the applicant wishes, contact should be maintained with the applicant until suitable stable accommodation is found.
10.21 Local authorities and other agencies should carefully record all advice and assistance offered, and monitor their service in relation to race equality and other equalities requirements.