CHAPTER 2 - PREVENTION OF HOMELESSNESS
2.1 Summary - this chapter describes the action to be taken by local authorities to prevent homelessness arising in the first place and then recurring. It gives guidance on the different types of advice and information that should be provided to people in different situations in order to prevent homelessness. It also discusses the Anti-Social Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004 which make provisions for different types of tenancy and support for people subject to ASBOs. It gives guidance on how homelessness may be prevented from recurring through providing support to help people settle in their tenancies.
2.2 Prevention of homelessness should be a key strategic aim which local authorities and other partners pursue through the local homelessness strategy. All local authority departments and all relevant local agencies should work together to prevent homelessness occurring wherever possible. It is also vitally important that, where homelessness does occur and is being tackled, consideration is given to the factors which may cause repeat homelessness and action taken to prevent homelessness recurring. Preventing homelessness is important to alleviate the misery that homelessness causes. It also helps to prevent the additional problems that can be caused by being homeless (such as health problems, losing employment, and losing contacts with support networks). It is also important to allocate resources to preventing homelessness to reduce pressure on health, housing, social work, employment and justice services in the longer term.
2.3 The Scottish Executive has published guidance on carrying out assessments of homelessness within a local authority and on the development of homelessness strategies. This guidance on assessments emphasises the importance of paying particular attention to the identification of those at risk of homelessness; and the identification of services and provisions which prevent homelessness. The guidance on development of strategies stresses that local authorities should prioritise the prevention of homelessness in this process, and in so doing should identify actions which will make early and effective interventions to support people at risk of becoming homeless.
Advice and information
2.4 Local authorities have a duty under section 2 of the 2001 Act to secure that advice and information about the prevention of homelessness and any services which may assist in the prevention of homelessness is available free of charge to any person in the authority's area. Guidance on the form and content of this advice and information has been published by the Scottish Executive. 4 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. 5 Chapter 10 discusses this further.
2.5 Local authorities should take a pro-active approach to the provision of advice and information. Local authorities should therefore publicise information on the services available to homeless people, in ways and places which ensure maximum accessibility. For example publicity via telephone directories, or in telephone kiosks, post offices, rail or bus stations, accident and emergency departments and GP surgeries should be considered as well as the provision of advice in more formal settings such as the offices of voluntary organisations or the local authority.
2.6 All relevant information should be available online, in relevant minority ethnic languages and should be otherwise accessible to people from black and minority ethnic communities and to people with disabilities. The aim should be to encourage early approaches by those at risk of homelessness, when their problems may be less serious and therefore easier to tackle.
2.7 Local authorities should consider appropriate ways of communicating and providing advice and information to young people, to ensure that they have access to it.
2.8 Publicity should:
- make clear the circumstances which would make a person eligible for homelessness assistance;
- recognise that there are different types of homelessness;
- take account of the stigma which may be attached to services badged as homelessness services; and
- take account of the different perceptions of homelessness which may prevail in different communities.
2.9 Voluntary bodies, which may be the first contact for homeless people, are key providers of specialist expertise and services and joint publicity arrangements may be more effective than each body issuing separate publicity for its own services. A communications strategy should therefore be considered as part of the development of the wider homelessness strategy.
Accommodation/advice and assistance
2.10 If someone is threatened with homelessness unintentionally ( i.e. likely to become homeless within 2 months) and is in priority need, then the local authority has a duty to take reasonable steps to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available. More generally, the local authority has a duty to give advice and assistance to anyone threatened with homelessness.
2.11 Under section 32(2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, where a local authority is:
- satisfied that an applicant in priority need is threatened with homelessness ( i.e. likely to become homeless within 2 months); and
- satisfied that he or she did not become threatened with homelessness intentionally;
it must take reasonable steps to try to ensure that accommodation does not cease to be available for occupation by the applicant.
2.12 Section 32(4) provides that the section 32(2) duty does not affect any right of the local authority (under any contract, enactment, or rule of law) to secure vacant possession of accommodation. However, local authorities should also bear in mind their strategic responsibility for preventing homelessness, and repeat homelessness, when considering action in any particular case.
2.13 As is set out more fully in Chapter 9, section 32(5) excludes from the definition of accommodation, any accommodation which is overcrowded and a danger to health, does not meet any special needs of the household or which it is otherwise not reasonable for the applicant to occupy. Obtaining such accommodation for an applicant, or enabling them to remain in such accommodation, does not fulfil a local authority's duty and a person in this situation would still be homeless.
2.14 If someone is threatened with homelessness and is not in priority need, or is in priority need but threatened with homelessness intentionally then, under section 32(3) the local authority has a duty to provide advice and assistance that is appropriate in the circumstances. The purpose of this advice and assistance should be to support attempts by the applicant to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available for his or her occupation. See chapter 10 for further guidance on the provision of advice and assistance.
2.15 The accommodation obtained for a person threatened with homelessness need not be his or her existing accommodation, although in practice this will often be the best option; assuming that it is reasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy it. If the local authority concludes that the loss of the applicant's present accommodation cannot be avoided, it should consider what duties it would have towards him or her if the person becomes homeless and act quickly to prevent homelessness - and particularly rooflessness - actually occurring. In either case, local authorities should intervene as early as possible.
2.16 As part of their assessment of the causes and nature of homelessness in their area, and the subsequent development of strategies, local authorities and their partners should identify and focus on actions which can be taken to prevent homelessness amongst particularly vulnerable groups. Service providers should also be aware that these households may also be susceptible to repeat homelessness and that therefore sustained support may be required alongside resolving accommodation issues.
2.17 Particular circumstances, such as the loss of tied accommodation, may be particularly relevant in some local authorities but some common causes of homelessness are set out below:
2.18 Many people become homeless due to the breakdown of family relationships - e.g. divorce, separation or disagreements between siblings or parents and offspring. Such a domestic dispute may come to a local authority's attention in a number of ways and many cases intervention to prevent the break up of the household may not be appropriate. However, the authority should always act to ensure that long periods of homelessness, and in particular rooflessness, are avoided. Where allegations of abuse are involved it would be wholly inappropriate for the authority or another agency to intervene to keep the household together and such an intervention may in fact lead to an exacerbation of the situation. In particular the alleged perpetrator of violence should not be approached for a view. Service providers should, however, consider whether the person who has experienced abuse would find it helpful to keep in touch with other close relatives or friends and the implications for the provision of accommodation and services.
2.19 Advice may be required by a member of the household on, for example, his or her rights under the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981. However, exercising these rights should not be made a condition of access to services. It may also be useful to ask a relevant voluntary body, such as a Women's Aid group in the case of domestic abuse, or the social work department, to help in appropriate circumstances, and particularly if there are children in the household.
2.20 Particular problems may arise in the case of older people, for example where the person has been dependent on their spouse for the house or to handle financial affairs. Such help, for example counselling or basic housing support, may be required urgently.
2.21 Generally, if it is appropriate, and if it is requested by both parties, assistance should be directed towards relieving tension within the household so as to enable the household to continue to live together.
2.22 If the local authority is satisfied that the situation warrants making accommodation available, its agreement to secure another house within a definite period of time may be preferable to transferring those involved into some interim short-term accommodation while more lasting arrangements are established. However, local authorities must not put pressure on people to remain in or return to their previous houses if that would cause distress. In particular, when a person is seeking refuge because of a fear of abuse there will be an immediate need for rehousing.
2.23 A local authority can use its powers under paragraph 15 of Schedule 2 to the 2001 Act (which effectively replaces the old powers under paragraph 16 of Schedule 3 to the 1987 Act) to transfer the tenancy of the house to (i) the tenant's spouse (or former spouse), or (ii) someone who has been living with the tenant as a spouse, where the potential transferee has applied to the landlord for the transfer because of relationship breakdown. Note that this includes same-sex couples. However, the powers under that paragraph can only be used where the sheriff is satisfied that it is reasonable to evict the tenant and that other accommodation is available for the tenant. Temporary accommodation may be needed for the person receiving the tenancy until the other person leaves. For the avoidance of doubt, the person leaving should be asked to renounce any occupancy rights under the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981. Particularly when children or other dependants remain with the applicant, such a transfer can minimise any resulting homelessness.
2.24 In other cases it may be possible for the authority or another service provide to intervene to prevent family breakdown and resulting homelessness. Local authorities should consider whether it is appropriate for them or another agency to provide relationship counselling or mediation services. Even where the family ceases to live together, these measures can help prevent homelessness by enabling family support to continue. This support is particularly important for young people leaving the family home. It may also be appropriate to consider other forms of support - such as drug or alcohol counselling - where these may help to resolve underlying tensions. However, as noted above, the provision of support should never be an alternative to rehousing where there is a risk of abuse.
2.25 People may become homeless on leaving:
- local authority care
- the armed forces.
2.26 In order to prevent this, close links between local authority departments, hospitals, primary care and community health services, prisons and the armed forces should be established locally as part of the development of the homelessness strategy.
2.27 Discharge protocols should be in place, including provision for the involvement of all relevant agencies in pre-discharge assessments and the formulation of any through-care and after-care plans. Such protocols should be developed within the framework of the local homelessness strategy.
2.28 Local authorities and other agencies should note the following points:
- Pre-discharge discussions are vital, particularly where individuals may be reluctant to reveal housing difficulties for fear these could delay their discharge.
- Advance planning will be required to ensure accommodation is available, in some cases planning will be required to take place several years in advance where new accommodation has to be provided, particularly specialist accommodation.
- Even where accommodation is already available, it will be necessary in some cases to check that this is still suitable (for example for a person who has become physically disabled) or that support services are in place (for example for a discharged psychiatric patient). In some cases, it will also be necessary to check the availability of move-on accommodation which the discharged person may need at a later date because of likely changes in his or her condition after discharge; and always where discharge accommodation is only available for a limited period.
- In certain cases, a community care needs assessment will be required. (see paragraphs 4.44-4.49 in Chapter 4)
- In all cases, it will be important to establish early on in which area the person wishes to live. People may not have a local connection with the area in which an institution is located. Even if they do, it may be better for them to return to the area where they lived previously. The housing options guides published by HomePoint could be used as a resource to help the person decide.
- Care plans should provide for the position to be reassessed if a tenancy is in danger of not being sustained (particularly if this is due to part of the care package not being delivered).
2.29 Difficulties in dealing direct with a person at risk of homelessness, for example because he or she is living in a long-stay hospital or other institution or serving with the armed forces some distance from the local authority, should not prevent their receiving the assistance to which they are entitled under homelessness legislation, or under other legislation such as the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Scotland Act 2003. Protocols and other working arrangements put in place under the local homelessness strategy should address access issues.
2.30 All Health Boards have developed health and homelessness action plans which should set out how they plan to ensure that the health needs of homeless people are met. Local authorities should liaise closely with Health Boards and individual hospitals in order to develop discharge protocols, and these may be included as part of the action plans. Sections 53 and 57 of the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 provide for welfare and/or financial intervention and guardianship orders to enable decisions to be made about the personal welfare, including health, and the management of property and financial affairs for adults whose capacity to do so is impaired. The Act imposes a duty on local authorities to apply for an order under these sections where is appears that an order is necessary and no application has or is likely to be made.
2.31 Arrangements for accommodation in the community should be made as quickly as possible, to prevent people being kept inappropriately in hospital.
2.32 Many prisoners do not have secure accommodation available on their release, making it less easy for them to integrate successfully into the community and increasing the risks of both homelessness and re-offending. Local authorities should therefore work together with prisons, social work departments and voluntary organisations to put in place measures to prevent people becoming homeless on release from prison. Local authorities and prisons should try and anticipate future problems by considering what action is needed from the beginning of a prisoner's sentence, rather than waiting until release.
2.33 Particular difficulties may arise when an offender is detained for more than the 13 week period for which he or she is entitled to housing benefit while detained. The only exception to this 13-week limit is for prisoners on remand who may be entitled to up to 52 weeks of housing benefit. As a minimum people in this position should be warned of the possibility of the cessation of housing benefit, and the need to consider their future housing situation. If the sentence is only slightly longer than 13 weeks then local authorities or RSLs should consider making arrangements in order to help the offender from getting into debt and allowing the offender to move back into their existing accommodation.
2.34 Local authorities should also consider, for prisoners previously living in local authority housing, such possibilities as allowing them to sublet their house during their sentence, or coming to an agreement under which they give up their present tenancy but are given an equivalent house on release. Naturally, such arrangements may not be appropriate if the prisoner has a family living with him or her who would be affected by such a change, or it would be undesirable for the prisoner to return to their home area on release. However, these arrangements can be of benefit not only to the tenant but also to the authority in terms of reducing rent arrears and avoiding abandonments.
2.35 Social work departments have access to a limited amount of accommodation for those who are released from custody or subject to supervision as part of a court order. Priority is given to those who are subject to a condition of residence imposed by the courts or Parole Board or the Secretary of State, as social work departments have a duty to supervise these orders.
2.36 Local authorities should work closely with prisons in their area in order to ensure that prisoners approaching release are fully aware of their housing options and are given as much assistance as possible in securing accommodation, in order to ensure they do not become homeless on release. Housing advice services are now available throughout the Scottish prison estate and local authorities should do as much as possible to assist these services and make connections to services in the community. Where necessary to avoid homelessness on release, local authorities should also consider whether homelessness assessments could be carried out prior to release, either by local authority staff based in the prison on a fixed or visiting basis or by prison-based staff on behalf of the local authority.
2.37 Local authorities should also be aware that prisoners currently held in other areas might also wish to make an application to them on release. They should therefore consider the need to liaise with all Scottish prisons and establish a first point of contact in these circumstances.
2.38 Local authorities and other agencies should also consider the need to ensure that a prisoner's possessions are secure during their sentence. People leaving prison often find it very difficult to re-establish themselves in the community and this can be exacerbated where they have lost all their possessions.
2.39 Most local authorities will have established a multi-agency sex offenders protocol to ensure that housing of sex offenders on release is handled sensitively and that appropriate support and supervision is in place. All local authorities should consider establishing such a protocol and all staff handling homeless applicants should be familiar with it. The Chartered Institute of Housing have published guidance on housing sex offenders 6 and this guidance should be made available to all staff handling homeless applicants, as well as relevant partners, such as other housing providers.
2.40 For further information on prison-based housing advice services please contact the Social Care Advisor at the Scottish Prison Service. 7
2.41 Many children and young people previously looked after by a local authority are particularly vulnerable and need support. Local authorities' duties and powers to provide for this group are set out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. Local authorities have a duty to make the welfare of the child their paramount consideration when making a decision relating to a child being looked after under the 1995 Act. In addition, the 2003 Act extends priority need to include all young people aged 18-20 who were in care at the time of leaving school. See paragraph 6.13 in chapter 6 for more details.
2.42 Scottish Executive guidance published in March 2004 "Supporting Young People Leaving Care in Scotland: Regulations and Guidance on Services for Young People Looked After by local authorities" 8 makes clear that local authorities have a role as a corporate parent to these young people, particularly those who cannot return to their families. This means that the local authority should look after these children as any other parents would look after their own children. The approach taken should therefore reflect the fact that the provision of care and support for young people by their parents does not generally cease at a particular age and may continue long after a young person has reached adulthood; and adapts to meet the changing needs of the young person as they develop.
2.43 Under the regulations and guidance, young people leaving care should be allocated a pathway co-ordinator. This person, who may but need not be an officer of the local authority, provides support and advice to the young people in planning and making the move from care to independent living. The pathway co-ordinator is also responsible for co-ordinating the provision of services identified in the plan agreed by the local authority and the young person.
2.44 In addition, under the regulations and guidance, the young person is entitled to a supporter, who will be a different person from the pathway co-ordinator. The young person's supporter can provide support in a range of ways, including accompanying the young person to meetings with professionals.
2.45 When working with young people leaving care every effort should be made to ensure that housing/homelessness services co-ordinate with other services. It is crucial that housing, social work and other departments work together in exercising their respective functions in relation to young people being looked after, or previously looked after, and children in need under the 1995 Act. This applies during the time when the young person is being looked after, when they are approaching when they cease to be looked after and in the transition to independent living. Liaising and working with the pathway co-ordinator is the recommended way of achieving this. It is good practice to ask the young person whether they have a pathway co-ordinator and a supporter and to seek to involve these individuals in assisting the young person with their housing need. More generally, whenever young people make contact with local authorities and other related bodies, they should receive appropriate guidance and advice at that point.
2.46 Local authorities should have regard to the Guidance referred to in paragraph 2.42 above. This contains guidance on the following areas:
- The principles which should guide the provision of throughcare and aftercare of these young people
- The legal framework
- Involvement of young people
- Categories of young people to be supported
- Responsible local authority
- Assessing the needs of young people and pathway planning
- Pathway co-ordinator and young person's supporter
- Manner in which financial assistance is to be provided
- Right to appeal and make complaints
- Information gathering and sharing
2.47 Although the legal duties set out in this guidance only apply to young people, who cease to be looked after beyond school leaving age local authorities should adopt a flexible approach which takes account of their broader duties to prevent homelessness and the need to find sustainable approaches when considering other cases. Local authorities should also take a corporate responsibility for ensuring that regular checks are made on the housing circumstances of those who have left care for at least two years after they do so. The emphasis should be on sustaining housing arrangements which meet the needs of the individual or on providing constructive arrangements where they do not. Contingency arrangements should also be put in place in case of emergencies - and young people leaving care should be aware of these arrangements.
2.48 In no circumstances should children leave the care of a local authority without alternative accommodation appropriate to the assessed needs of the young person being in place. In no circumstances should children have to be taken into care purely as a result of their household becoming homeless. Under section 19 of the 1995 Act, housing and social work departments have a duty to co-operate on Children's Services Plans. These should also be clearly linked to local homelessness strategies.
Leaving the armed forces
2.49 While members of the armed forces may not establish a local connection through the fact of their service in the area, the household may establish a local connection in other ways - for example their children may be at school there. In other cases the most sustainable solution may be for a person who has served in the armed forces to return to an area where they lived previously, even if this was some years ago. Therefore, applications for housing from those serving with the armed forces who are due for discharge, or from former wives of service personnel who are required to vacate married quarters, should be treated sympathetically, even if they have not established a local connection, in line with the guidance contained in Circular, Env 26/1993 - Housing for People Leaving the armed forces. 9
2.50 Where people leaving the armed forces are in a position where their licence to occupy service accommodation is due to expire and they have no other accommodation they should be regarded as being threatened with homelessness. Local authorities should be aware of certificates of cessation of entitlement to occupy service accommodation which may be forwarded by the applicant several months in advance of an individual or family leaving service accommodation, in order to allow early action to be taken to prevent homelessness occurring. However, the absence of such a form should not lead to an assumption that the applicant is not threatened with homelessness or homeless on application to the local authority, and presentation of a certificate is not a condition of receiving assistance.
2.51 Local authorities should also consider forming links with veterans' benevolent and charitable organisations in their area, in order that they are aware of the particular issues facing people who have left the armed forces, and the range of assistance that is available. Such issues may include illness as a result of serving in the forces, and subsequent vulnerability. 10
Landlord action and court orders
2.52 Many people become homeless as a direct result of eviction from a tenancy or otherwise losing their right to occupy a property. Many of these situations arise as a result of rent arrears, with fewer attributable to anti-social behaviour. In many cases, sensitive housing management policies and early identification of tenants in difficulty may enable the local authority to take appropriate measures to remedy the breach of tenancy and thus prevent an eviction, which should be a last resort. Through the local homelessness strategy, the local authority and other local agencies, should provide for specific concentrated support programmes for people threatened with eviction. Such programmes should include the provision of independent advice and representation where appropriate. Communities Scotland's report and study on evictions 11 presents many recommendations on good practice for local authorities and other landlords to use in order to cut down on rent arrears and prevent evictions.
2.53 Scottish Executive guidance on the development of homelessness strategies emphasises that local authorities should work with other local landlords in conducting reviews of arrears management and anti-social behaviour policies in order to ensure that these do not lead to unnecessary or avoidable homelessness. Local authorities should also take a corporate approach to tackling rent arrears and anti-social behaviour in such a way as to avoid homelessness where possible. Relevant individuals and departments should ensure that policies are coherent and should consider the development of protocols to cover cases where there may be a perceived conflict.
2.54 General guidance on dealing with rent arrears was set out in Good Practice Note 2 Rent Arrears Management (March 1994). Relevant points are summarised below.
2.55 Local authorities should do all they can to prevent arrears arising and to recover them when they do. There have been adverse comments by the Judiciary about the practice of some landlords raising Actions for Repossession, obtaining Decree and only then negotiating regarding instalment payments. Landlords should try to negotiate with tenants prior to obtaining decree, so that the court may deal with any dispute on the level of contribution towards arrears should the negotiations not be successful.
2.56 The lower the level of debt, the more likely the local authority is to recover the arrears. So it is important for a local authority to identify difficulties quickly and to arrange to discuss matters with tenants. Reliance solely on routine procedures (such as successive computer-produced letters) is less likely to secure the results desired. Most arrears appear to arise through accidents of circumstance, or because tenants get into difficulty with the general management of their affairs. If that is what has happened, early personal contact may prevent more acute difficulties later. If tenants are wilfully refusing to pay rent (although able to do so) early action by local authorities can help to avoid the accumulation of large debts, and improve the chances of a tenant bringing his or her affairs into proper order. Some tenants will need general financial advice, perhaps from a specialist agency, and arrears letters should draw tenants' attention to sources of independent advice.
2.57 Some of the measures by which local authorities have been able to control rent arrears are set out below. They are commended to all local authorities. Again, Communities Scotland's report and study on evictions is also relevant.
- Prospective tenants should be made fully aware of the commitment they are taking on, not only for rent but for council tax, electricity, gas and any extra payments for such things as common services.
- Missed payments, as well as the total of a tenant's outstanding debts, may give an early warning of difficulties ahead, and enable special arrangements to be made for rent collection, including direct payments of housing benefit to the landlord.
- There should be protocols for obtaining social work advice, if and when it is appropriate, including safeguards for confidentiality of client information.
- It is important to check that the tenant is receiving all benefits payments to which he or she is entitled. If applicants are not receiving their entitlement in full, they should be advised to apply immediately and given assistance to do; and thereafter priority should be given to such applications. Delays in processing housing benefit claims can cause rent arrears or exacerbate tenants' problems in dealing with rent arrears. All homelessness strategies should include standards and targets for processing housing benefit claims. It should also be noted that section 12 of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 allows for sheriffs to take into account delays or failures in housing benefit administration when deciding whether to make an order for possession. Section 12 came into force in July 2004.
- Tenants who get into difficulties should be encouraged to approach housing department staff and other advice agencies for advice.
- Following up rent arrears vigorously, including selective visiting, may avoid the debt getting out of hand.
- Tenants should be made aware of the possibility of applying for time to pay directions from courts to allow them to pay off their debts over a planned period of time.
2.58 A local authority may still have duties to a tenant evicted for rent arrears if he or she applies under the homelessness legislation. However, if the arrears were deliberately built up by the tenant, in full knowledge of the consequences, he or she may be held to be intentionally homeless (but each case must be judged on its individual merits). (See also paragraph 7.17 in Chapter 7).
Anti-social Behaviour Orders and their effect on tenancies
2.59 What are ASBOs? Anti-social behaviour orders ( ASBOs) are preventative orders designed to protect people in the community from further acts or conduct that would cause them alarm or distress. Breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence. ASBOs were introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) and can be applied for by local authorities and RSLs. Interim orders were introduced in 2003. The Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 extended ASBOs to 12-15 year olds and introduced ASBOs on conviction in the criminal court. The ASBO provisions in the 2004 Act have come into effect and will replace those in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as they relate to Scotland. Guidance on the new provisions has been published. 12
2.60 ASBOs and their effect upon tenancies - RSLs and LAs have the power to change a tenant's tenancy if the tenant or someone in their household has an ASBO. This means that if a tenant or someone else in their household has a full ASBO then the relevant tenancy can be converted from a Scottish secure tenancy ( SST) to a short Scottish secure tenancy. This conversion cannot be made on the basis of an interim ASBO. New tenants can also be offered short SSTs if they or members of their household are subject to an ASBO, or if they have been evicted from previous accommodation anywhere in the UK within the past 3 years. The link between ASBOs and security of tenancy exists in relation to ASBOs made on persons 12 or over and in respect of ASBOs made on conviction (though the behaviour should be related to the tenancy). This link between change in tenure and ASBOs is not automatic and depends on the landlord.
2.61 The landlord must provide support appropriate to enabling the tenants to help them sustain the tenancy and convert to a full SST. The types of support envisaged should all fall within the broad definition of "housing support services" and might include, for example, alcohol/debt/family counselling, or social work support. Landlords should make sure that the support it considers appropriate to enable conversion to an SST is linked to its stated objectives in granting a short SST. In other words, the landlord should make clear that the short SST is being granted because of certain behaviour and that it will convert to an SST in 12 months or the landlord will offer a full SST before that time, provided that the behaviour is altered and that the landlord will make certain support available specifically to help the tenant to successfully convert to an SST.
2.62 The short SST will convert automatically to a full SST after 12 months, if there has been no repetition of antisocial conduct. If there has been antisocial behaviour during the short SST or if the terms of the ASBO have been broken then the tenancy can be ended, leading to subsequent eviction of the tenant and their household. The LA or RSL must apply for a court order to end this type of tenancy but the grounds for eviction are mandatory and the tenant has no right of appeal. If the landlord wants to prevent the short SST from converting to a full SST he or she needs to take action, otherwise the conversion will happen automatically.
2.63 Should the tenant refuse support offered by the landlord, it will be for the landlord to decide whether it wishes to offer the short SST on the basis that the behaviour will improve without support or whether it wishes to make acceptance of support a condition of the short SST offer.
2.64 If the behaviour that led to an ASBO is unrelated to the tenancy then landlords should not exercise their power to convert the tenancy to a short SST. An example of this might be when a member of the household gets an ASBO for antisocial behaviour that was committed outwith the vicinity of the accommodation. An ASBO awarded as a result of antisocial behaviour in a pub that is not near to the accommodation should not be seen as related to the tenancy. Interim ASBOs can also be applied for by LAs or RSLs and these do not impact upon the type of tenancy.
2.65 These powers have a double effect. First, it allows tenants with anti-social tendencies to receive support to enable them to sustain a tenancy in a responsible manner and to convert to a full Scottish secure tenancy after a period of up to 12 months. Secondly, it enables landlords to downgrade a tenancy from the full Scottish secure tenancy for tenants who are anti-social, thereby making it easier for the landlord to end the tenancy, as a last resort, should the anti-social behaviour continue. The use of short SSTs is designed to prevent eviction in the first instance and give the tenant time to sort out problems without immediate fear of eviction.
2.66 The above powers on converting tenancies hold even if the person in the household subject to an ASBO is under 16 years old. If the tenancy is ended as a result of the child's breaking the terms of his or her ASBO then the household may be deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless, however this should not automatically be assumed and each case should be considered carefully. See chapter 7 for further guidance on deciding if someone is intentionally homeless. Even if the local authority is satisfied that the homelessness was intentional, the applicant is still entitled to receive temporary accommodation, and advice and assistance from the local authority (see chapter 9). The local authority may also have continuing duties to children and young people under the terms of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
2.67 It is important that those requiring community care or other support, for example, because of mental health problems, are referred for an assessment of their needs rather than being the subject only of punitive sanctions. Referrals to local community mental health services will be appropriate in most cases.
2.68 Guidance on the use of short SSTs can be found in SEDD Circular 6/2002: Housing (Scotland) Act 2001: Scottish Secure and Scottish Short Secure Tenancy. 13
2.69 Antisocial behaviour which could lead to eviction is not of course confined to local authority tenants, or indeed social housing. Local authorities may wish to arrange for private sector landlords, housing associations and the police to be aware of what support or intervention can be offered by social work or housing departments or other agencies to deal with other tenures.
2.70 Part 4 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2004 gives police the powers to close premises which cause significant and persistent disorder or serious nuisance to the local community. Statutory guidance on this part of the Act has been published 14 and this says that if premises are closed then people staying in those premises may be threatened with homelessness. Police should work with local authorities to inform the latter of any potentially homeless people as far as possible in advance of issuing the closure notice. This should allow local authorities to work with the affected people to prevent homelessness and find new accommodation if needed.
2.71 If a tenant gives up a tenancy because of harassment or illegal eviction, the courts may award damages. Where there is evidence of harassment the local authority should encourage the tenant to report this to the police. Harassment is a criminal offence under section 22 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. It is widely defined and, besides violence or intimidation, could include cutting off gas and electricity supplies or failure to carry out or complete necessary repairs. Further information is available from The Scottish Executive booklets "Help for Homeless People" and "Protection against Harassment and Unlawful Eviction". Local authorities should refer those affected by illegal evictions or harassment to sources of advice and support which will help those affected to take appropriate action.
2.72 Under section 11 of the 2003 Act the local authority should be notified when a landlord raises proceedings for possession. Ministers have the power to prescribe the form of notice to be used and the manner in which they should be given. This section of the Act is not yet in force (the Executive plans to make relevant regulations in 2005) - however local authorities should consider the following guidance in order to make preparations for commencement.
2.73 On receiving notification, the local authority should take as pro-active an approach as possible to prevent homelessness occurring. For instance it may be appropriate for the authority to make initial contact with all households involved, and to make more concerted efforts where the household involved is already known to the homelessness service. Authorities may wish to offer to negotiate with the landlord on the tenant's behalf, or to arrange for the provision of housing support services, advocacy or other services as relevant to the particular case. The local authority should also consider ways in which this information can be used to monitor local allocation policies and the effectiveness of initial solutions to homelessness and can otherwise feed into the development and review of their homelessness strategy.
Helping owner occupiers to avoid homelessness
2.74 If a house owner is threatened with homelessness because the mortgage lender is taking legal action to repossess the house, the local authority may be able to help in a variety of ways. For example the local authority can help negotiate with the mortgage lender. Even if repossession cannot be avoided, local authorities can help to plan for it in advance, for example through helping to set up a tenancy. This may avoid the need to rehouse people in temporary accommodation. Help may also be available under the Mortgage to Rent scheme. To be eligible under the scheme the owner must have sought financial advice and be unable to "trade down" to a cheaper house in the locality. There must also be a good reason why the household should remain in the local area. An owner who satisfies these and other conditions of the scheme can apply for a social landlord to buy the house, with the owner becoming the tenant. The purchase would be subsidised from Scottish Executive funds to allow any necessary repairs to be carried out and to allow the landlord to keep the rent at an affordable level. The scheme is administered by the Mortgage to Rent scheme team in Communities Scotland, who can provide further information. 15
2.75 The Mortgage Rights (Scotland) Act 2001 came into force on 3 December 2001. Its purpose is to help households who find themselves in mortgage difficulties. The Act provides, among other things, new powers to allow the courts to consider the debtor's circumstances when the lender has applied for a repossession order. It enables the court to decide whether an order should be made delaying the repossession to give the debtor time to find alternative accommodation or, where possible, to get their mortgage back on track. This may enable local authorities to assist in opening discussions between the lender and the mortgage holder to seek to prevent homelessness. An explanatory booklet on the Act is available from the Scottish Executive. 16
Prevention of recurrence of homelessness
2.76 While the actions discussed so far in this chapter may prevent homelessness arising in many cases, local authorities cannot hope to succeed in all cases. Equal attention should therefore be given to ensuring that homelessness - and in particular rooflessness - does not recur, as this can be extremely harmful for the individuals involved and is also expensive in terms of public resources. The assessment of the causes of homelessness within the authority will help to pinpoint local priorities for action.
2.77 In considering resettlement, local authorities and partner agencies should bear in mind the key principles set out by the Homelessness Task Force:
- Solutions to homelessness should be based on a thorough assessment of the household's needs, including support needs. The specific needs of families with children should not be overlooked.
- The objective should always be to find sustainable solutions which enable homeless people to be reintegrated back into the community and which are likely to last in the longer term.
- Joint working is crucial in addressing complex or multiple needs.
- Provision of social work advice and assistance/community care and other support issues.
2.78 In addition to a general duty to promote social welfare in making available advice, guidance and assistance, social work departments have an emergency power under section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to assist persons in need in certain circumstances. Section 12 enables local authorities to give cash to, or in respect of, any person aged at least 18 years who is in need within the meaning of the Act, and requiring assistance in exceptional circumstances constituting an emergency, and where to do so would be more cost effective than giving assistance in another form. Local authorities should have regard to other means of assistance available to the person in need, and to whether any assistance given should be repaid.
2.79 Section 140 of the Local Government Etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 gives local authorities discretionary powers to assist voluntary organisations to provide for individuals. This can also include assistance in asserting these rights or fulfilling these obligations, either by making or receiving communications on the clients behalf, or by making representations.
2.80 While homeless people as such are not a community care client group, homelessness officers should be alert to the possibility that some will require community care, health, or other support, to live successfully in the community; and refer them to the appropriate agency. Such referrals should be covered by protocols established as the homelessness strategy is developed. Support packages must cater for the individual needs of each household - and service providers should enter into a dialogue with the recipient of services to agree to the adjustment of support levels over time. In some cases a formal community care assessment will be required. See also paragraphs 4.44-4.49 in Chapter 4.
Independent living skills
2.81 Some homeless people, particularly young people or those having spent substantial periods sleeping rough or in temporary or institutional accommodation, may need to learn or relearn basic independent living skills, including budgeting, if they are to sustain their tenancy. In such cases provision of services to teach these skills by the local authority, or voluntary or other organisations, will be a cost effective investment.
2.82 Homelessness officers should ensure that applicants placed in accommodation have advice on the running costs of that accommodation, including the full costs of running that property (heating and lighting costs, repairs and maintenance liabilities, service charges, and any initial costs such as rent deposits or rent in advance) and advice on meeting these costs, including advice on any housing or other benefits to which they may be entitled. Travel costs to employment, education, or training may also be relevant in some cases.
Location and support networks
2.83 In considering rehousing, local authorities and housing associations should recognise the importance of ensuring that tenancies are unlikely to be sustained if people feel isolated from friends, relatives, and other formal or informal support networks. Problems may also be caused if accommodation is located too far from their employment, or education or training establishments, or health services which are used frequently.
2.84 Many people who have experienced homelessness will have lost or be deprived of, their social networks of families, friendships or work. The circumstances and trauma of homelessness frequently leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness before and after resettlement. Ensuing depression and mental health problems are common. There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that isolation and loneliness are major factors in resettlement breakdown.
2.85 The strength of a person's social networks should be an integral part of the assessment of their needs and of the support offered thme in temporary accommodation and during resettlement. Where individuals and families (including children) do not have strong positive social networks, local authorities should consider whether a befriending, mentoring or mediation service may be appropriate to enable them to build or rebuild social bonds. Local authorities should develop practical local measures to enable people affected by homelessness to (re)build social networks.
2.86 The Scottish Social Networks Forum is being formed to support the development of befriending, mentoring and mediation services for homeless people by:
- raising awareness of the important role these services can play;
- testing and developing approaches which support the building of social networks;
- sharing good practice and information; and
- providing a forum for discussion and support.
2.87 A national co-ordinator has been appointed, based at the Rock Trust. 17
2.88 Some homeless people, including those made homeless from furnished accommodation, may have little or no furniture of their own. Roofless people in particular may lack such basic necessities as pots and pans. One solution is to provide furnished tenancies, either within the local authority's own stock or by arrangements with private or public sector providers. Another is to provide "starter packs" containing essential items.
2.89 Communities Scotland runs a furnished tenancies scheme to which local authorities can apply for assistance with costs for "essential goods" such as cookers and fridges. Local authorities can provide grants to the housing providers of their choice. These are for permanent or temporary accommodation and all homeless people are eligible. Local authorities may find these grants particularly useful in situations where homeless people are ineligible to access grants for furniture from the benefits system.
2.90 The guidance for the furniture tenancy scheme advises service providers to utilise local furniture recycling projects in order to establish furnished tenancies or to help people who are resettling from homelessness to source specific items of furniture. A national furniture co-ordinator is in place, based at Community Re-cycling Network Scotland. 18
Rent deposit/guarantee schemes
2.91 In order to maximise access to the private rented sector, every local authority should ensure that people at risk of homelessness or those resettling from homelessness can access a local rent guarantee/deposit scheme. Access to the scheme should be provided as early as possible and local authorities should consider marketing the scheme in such a way as to ensure that the potential for early involvement is maximised. Authorities should also satisfy themselves that the applicant has the means to continuing making rental payments once they have gained access to accommodation. Local authorities may wish to contact the National Rent Deposit Forum for further details. 19
2.92 For many people resettling from homelessness a job will be an important factor in determining whether or not accommodation is sustained. Local authorities and partners should therefore consider whether any members of the household require assistance to maintain or find employment. For homeless people who have complex needs, or who have been homeless or roofless for a significant length of time, pre-vocational support will be essential.
2.93 Local authorities should ensure that they have close links with local offices of the Benefits Agency and Jobcentre Plus and also with the local enterprise company and careers services, as well as with local businesses and voluntary organisations who may be able to offer employment, training or pre-vocational activity.
2.94 For further information and advice local authorities should contact the Scottish Homelessness and Employability Network. 20
2.95 Unmet health needs may interfere with an individual's ability to sustain accommodation. Local authorities should record information about the GP registration of all those who are assessed as homeless and should offer information about local health services to homeless people rehoused outwith their existing GP area. NHS boards are now required to consider and plan for the needs of homeless people in their areas through the use of "Health and Homelessness" standards. Local authorities should also maintain close links with local healthcare providers. 21