CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION
1.1 The purpose of this Code is to help guide local authorities in their duties to homeless and potentially homeless people. This Code of Guidance replaces the previous version issued in 2004 and has been updated to reflect legislative change, notably through the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003. Annex A summarises the main legislative changes to date. The Code also reflects best working practice in areas such as cooperation with other parts of local and national government, and other agencies.
1.2 The Homelessness Task Force established by the Executive in 1999 published two reports with far-reaching implications for homelessness policy. Its initial report 1 produced recommendations which were taken forward in the Housing (Scotland) Act (2001). The final report of the Homelessness Task Force, 1 published in February 2002, contained 59 further recommendations "on how homelessness in Scotland can best be prevented and, where it does occur, tackled effectively". Five of these recommendations were taken forward through the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003. The remaining recommendations of the Homelessness Task Force are being taken forward by the Scottish Executive in partnership with local authorities and others, and the latest annual report of the Homelessness Monitoring Group 2 sets out progress against each.
1.3 These are far-reaching changes which should be seen in the context of the full recommendations set out in the reports of the Homelessness Task Force and in particular the emphasis now placed on finding solutions to people's housing and related needs, and preventing homelessness from occurring, rather than on systems designed to ration people's entitlement.
Scope of guidance
1.4 Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (as amended by the 2001 and 2003 Acts) sets out the powers and duties of local authorities in dealing with applications from people seeking help on the grounds that they are homeless or threatened with homelessness.
1.5 Section 37(1) requires local authorities to have regard to Guidance issued by the Secretary of State in the exercise of their homelessness functions. This Code provides such guidance. While local authorities have discretion to deal with each application on its merits in making decisions under the 1987 Act, failure to have regard to the terms of the guidance may give grounds for judicial review of a local authority's decision. Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to prevent and alleviate homelessness. The Code should be used as a supporting document for local authority staff in carrying out relevant activities and discharging this responsibility, and should be seen as a repository of guidance and best practice to cover different scenarios. To this end the Executive will aim to update the Code regularly.
1.6 The Code sets out a summary of legislative duties with supporting explanation and guidance. It is principally intended for local authority staff dealing with homelessness policy and responsible for making decisions on homelessness applications. It should be emphasised, however, that a local authority's duties towards a homeless person are corporate in nature and not solely the responsibility of the housing department. This corporate approach is a key feature of local homelessness strategies.
1.7 The Code is also relevant to other agencies and individuals, including Registered Social Landlords, elected council members and other council officials as well as to a range of others involved in tackling homelessness in the statutory and voluntary sectors.
Regulation and inspection
1.8 The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 gives Communities Scotland the role of regulating Registered Social Landlords ( RSLs) and the landlord, homelessness and factoring services of local authorities. Communities Scotland's purpose as a regulator is to promote quality, continuous improvement and good practice in these services, for the benefit of current and future tenants, and other service users. One way it does this is through the inspection of RSLs and local authorities. Inspections provide an in-depth assessment of an organisation, its service quality and its ability to improve. Communities Scotland's Guide to Inspection describes how it carries out inspections.
1.9 Communities Scotland published Performance Standards with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( CoSLA) and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations ( SFHA). These standards set out joint expectations for the performance of all social landlords and homelessness functions: there are nine standards on local authorities' homelessness strategies and their delivery of services to people who are homeless; and one standard on RSLs' duties to help local authorities discharge their duties to people who are homeless.
1.10 The inspection process is built around an assessment of how well these standards are being met, and inspectors will take account of the Code of Guidance when assessing landlords' performance in meeting the needs of homeless people.
1.11 The Guide to Inspection, and the Performance Standards are available on Communities Scotland's website. 3
1.12 Over the coming period it is expected that there will be a need to update the Code on a regular basis. These updates will derive from:
further legislative change as the 2003 Act is fully commenced and its provisions take effect;
specific additional guidance developed in particular areas; and
key messages emerging from local authorities' homelessness strategies as these are implemented.
1.13 The web version of the Code can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/ housing/cogh-00.asp and will be updated on an ad hoc basis. When it is updated, each local authority will be notified. Hard copy updates of individual chapters will be supplied at yearly intervals to key contacts within each organisation.
1.14 Throughout the Code,
"the 1987 Act" means the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987;
"the 2001 Act" means the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001; and
"the 2003 Act" means the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003.