PART 2: IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HOUSING SUPPORT DUTY
Who the duty is to: assessment
23. The duty to assess the need for housing support is relevant to every applicant assessed by the local authority as unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness and who the local authority has reason to believe would benefit from housing support services as prescribed in regulations (see paragraph 12, Part 1 of this Guidance).
24. Once the duty has arisen and the local authority has reason to believe that the applicant may need the support, the local authority must assess others residing with the applicant. If it finds that support services are needed, it must ensure they are provided. If the applicant does not require support, but a local authority is aware that others residing with the applicant may have support needs, it may be considered best practice (and most likely to lead to successful outcomes) to address these needs.
When the duty begins: provision
25. The duty to provide housing support services begins following assessment of the need for housing support. This reflects the need to provide support to prepare for, or search for, settled accommodation.
26. If support is not determined as being required at this initial assessment stage, local authorities should consider the potential triggers for a further support assessment at a later stage e.g. when moving out of temporary accommodation, in reaction to unforeseen crises.
27. The duty is to the applicant, or those residing with the applicant, assessed as requiring housing support rather than to the accommodation. Consequently, while the legislation makes no specific reference to temporary accommodation, in practice, the duty to provide support may begin when in temporary accommodation and after the decision has been made of a right to settled accommodation.
Defining 'Reason to Believe'
28. The duty only applies to those assessed as unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness who the local authority has 'reason to believe' is in need of support. Each case should be considered on its merits, avoiding the adoption of blanket policies.
29. It will be important for local authorities to establish clear triggers for a housing support assessment to ensure assessments are not driven by resource considerations. A local authority should be able to demonstrate a process that it follows to identify people that may be in need of housing support.
30. This Guidance does not seek to specify a particular process in this regard, but local authorities should be able to demonstrate that they have one and that it is implemented consistently.
31. While not an exhaustive list, triggers for having 'Reason to Believe' may include:
- Previous tenancy history;
- Previous involvement in anti-social behaviour or previous significant
- rent arrears;
- A history of repeat homelessness;
- Age, such as a young person (16-25), including those that have been through the care system
- A person leaving an institution, such as prison
- Those with substance misuse issues
- Those with health issues including mental ill health
- Broad identification of particular groups at risk of homelessness as specified in the Scottish Government/ COSLA's Prevention of Homelessness Guidance
32. Assessments of the requirement for housing support services may need to be on-going and may be informed by the views of partner agencies as further support needs become evident. If 'reason to believe' is identified at any point between, and including, assessment and resettlement, an assessment of housing support should be carried out.
33. Where existing service provision involves external providers, local authorities may wish to consider how external service providers can be involved in the assessment for housing support. Appropriate data sharing protocols should be developed.
34. It is the local authority that has the legal duty to carry out the assessment and ensure that services provided. The assessment by the local authority could include information from any other agency already working with the applicant, but it is the local authority that would be expected to decide what the housing support needs are and that these are being met.
Existing Support Services
35. Many local authorities and their partners will already be providing support for those waiting for and living in settled accommodation. It is important to recognise that in many cases the duty should not lead to extra demands on resources or a duplication of current services, but to a formalisation of practice through housing support becoming a legal duty.
36. Where there is an existing support plan at the point of assessment of a duty to provide housing support, a review of the plan should ensure that the support plan is updated. It may not be beneficial to the applicant to start a new assessment process where services are already being provided.
Housing Support Standards
37. Most of the Housing Support Services (as defined in the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010) covered by the regulations in the housing support duty will be required to be registered by the Care Inspectorate. The Care Inspectorate will, through inspection and regulatory activities, seek evidence that the service is being provided in keeping with the National Care Standards and associated regulations.
38. Where providers of Housing Support Services are already registered with the Care Inspectorate, it may be appropriate to include housing support to homeless households within an existing registration, through a variation or notification to the Care Inspectorate. The Housing Support Standards can be found at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/05/16143310/0
Short Scottish Secure Tenancies ( SSSTs)
39. Housing support may already be provided to some in SSSTs and interim or transitional accommodation, such as those with a history of anti-social behaviour. However, the assessment for housing support as part of the duty will only apply when the local authority assessment of a duty to provide settled accommodation is made, irrespective of the type of tenancy.
Those residing with the Applicant
40. There is a requirement within the housing support duty to assess the support needs of the homeless applicant and any other person residing with the applicant as part of their household.
41. In most cases, where housing support is provided to an applicant, the support needs assessment and support plan would be expected to consider the needs of all those that reside with the applicant. In specific circumstances, for example where individual adults have very specific needs, where there is disagreement among the adults in a household or a suspicion of abuse, local authorities may consider carrying out separate assessment and support plans for different people residing with the applicant. Local authorities should be alert to this possibility.
42. The requirement to assess the support needs of others residing with the applicant also means that where there are children, and there is reason to suspect that the children require support or help, the referral should be made to appropriate lead professional or named person with reference to the principles of Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Young-People
Those not entitled under the Duty
43. While the housing support duty specifically applies where the local authority has duties relating to unintentionally homeless households, local authorities should also consider the longer term benefits of ensuring that housing support can also be provided to intentionally homeless households. In many cases, this will involve applicants who may be most vulnerable to repeat homelessness.
44. In these circumstances, the legal duty to those found to be intentionally homeless is to ensure provision of temporary accommodation and advice and assistance to find accommodation.
When is the Duty discharged ?
45. The legislation does not give details about appropriate timescales for support. This could have been detailed in regulations, but this was not taken forward in light of feedback in the consultation. The main reasons given for not covering this in regulations were: the need to maintain flexibility to respond to individual circumstances; the view that current legislation and practices are sufficient; and that detailed regulations would have issues relating to costs and resources.
46. A resettlement plan would normally be expected to run for an agreed period following the provision of settled accommodation. In some cases this may be for a very short period of time, but in other cases resettlement support may be for a longer period where there are high level or complex needs. It may be that these needs are best met by other services rather than housing support. It should also be recognised that some applicants may have long term needs which have not been identified before.
47. The key point is that the length of housing support being provided will depend on the individual support plan developed for each household or individual. Discharge of the housing support duty would happen once the support plan objectives have been achieved. The discharge of duty should happen on an individual planned basis with an agreed timescale for each of those to whom the housing support duty applies.
48. However, a local authority will also need to be able to discharge their housing support duty, such as where a person or household continually fails to co-operate with the support plan or continually refuses offers of settled accommodation. Each case may be best considered on an individual basis in light of specific circumstances. Local authorities may wish to evidence every attempt made to continue working with an individual, and to consider the implications of investing time and resources where there is non engagement and people do not want to co-operate with the support plan.
49. A planned disengagement of the service will be important. The Beyond Homelessness report published by the Rock Trust in 2013 highlights the need for disengagement with assessment of both formal and informal network supports: http://www.rocktrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Beyond-Homelessness-Final-Report-2013_low-res.pdf
50. It is recognised that there will be a challenge for homelessness services in housing support capacity being tied up for long periods following resettlement, where support needs and indeed, health and care needs, may be better met by other services, such as NHS and Social Care services. Consequently, early contact and effective partnership working with such services at the point of the housing support assessment will be important The importance of partnership working to the achievement of the most sustainable outcomes may also increase over the time of any support plan.
51. Housing support services are not expected to provide resettlement support over a long period, except where this is indicated as required by an individual support plan. If the support plan does not indicate this is necessary, the provision of longer term support to individuals may impact on providing housing support to new applicants. A focus of the resettlement period should be on engaging other appropriate services such as providing on-going health care and support services. Where possible, the transfer to mainstream services should be seamless.
52. Where withdrawal of support is being considered due to the achievement of objectives as part of an agreed support plan or because of non engagement, a local authority should consider whether the withdrawal is likely to lead to tenancy failure and repeat homelessness.
53. The length of time where housing support is provided may be less important than the outcomes that are achieved and the support plan should be in place for as long as would be effective. It would be for a court, ultimately, to assess what was reasonable in terms of the timescales if a failure to assess or provide housing support was challenged by Judicial Review.
54. Local authorities may wish to establish clear procedures to record agreement with the applicant in relation to the housing support duty and to ensure they have the means of formally notifying the applicant of the discharge of the duty.
What if support is refused?
55. It will be important for local authorities to be clear at which point they have fulfilled their duties and be able to establish why someone is refusing support and what they are refusing. Support being provided should be explored in order to see if it could be tailored to better meet the needs of the household.
56. If an applicant does not wish to engage at the initial assessment process or when in temporary accommodation, it is recommended that a further assessment be considered on discharge of the duty to settled accommodation if there is reason to believe it is required.
57. Where a household does not accept or engage with support as part of the duty, it is recommended that this may be considered as discharge of the housing support duty for local authorities.
Right to Review
58. The right to review homelessness decisions is covered by s35A and s35B of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.
59. The applicant has the right to request a review if they think that the council has not adequately discharged their duty to provide housing support. While not exhaustive, some examples may include:
- Failure to provide a housing support needs assessment when there is reason to believe that housing support is required;
- Failure to assess the housing support needs of individual members of the household where there is an indication that different members of the household require different assessments;
- Failure to ensure that prescribed housing support services are provided to any person that is assessed as being in need of them; or
- Unreasonably discharging duty to provide housing support before a housing support plan is successfully completed.
60. The ability of the applicant to request a review on any of these grounds needs to be considered in light of some of the other points that are made above. While not exhaustive, questions the local authority may wish to consider include:
- Has a process been applied to identify whether or not there is reason to believe that housing support services are required?
- Is there real reason to believe that separate members of a household need a separate assessment and support plan?
- Did the assessment identify that prescribed housing support services were required, or is this just the perception of the applicant?
- Did the input of housing support end prematurely or was it at an appropriate time?
61. These issues can be resolved through the review process. However reference should be made to the four categories of support covered in regulations when considering what housing support services it is reasonable to expect a homelessness service to provide.
What type of housing support?
62. As outlined at paragraph 12, regulations have outlined four categories of housing support which apply to the duty:
'advising or assisting a person with personal budgeting, debt counselling or in dealing with welfare benefit claims'
63. While many local authorities will already have established services to ensure help with budgeting is provided, the implications of welfare reform should be considered in providing services: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/Housing/16342/hbreform
64. Local authorities may also wish to consider the implications of the implementation of the Scottish Welfare Fund when developing support plans: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/welfarereform/socialfund
' assisting a person to engage with individuals, professionals or other bodies with an interest in that person's welfare'
65. This category provides an opportunity for broad and innovative support services. Local authorities could consider needs around health, employability and social networks. Local authorities could also adopt a holistic approach to ensure issues such as addictions, self-esteem, ability to 'gate keep own front door', loneliness and isolation are considered. Local authorities may also wish consider the particular needs of young people and take into account the recommendations of the Supported Accommodation Implementation Group. Its final report, published in November 2012, highlighted developing appropriate, person centred support services with a focus on employability and service user involvement. It also emphasised the potential importance of providing support to those in their own tenancies and those in short term accommodation preparing for their own tenancies: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/11/1267/0
66. The Scottish Government funds national co-ordinators based in the third sector, to promote services to tackle and prevent homelessness around social networks, employability, furniture re-use and service user involvement. Local authorities may benefit from their expertise in seeking to develop support services in these areas. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/Housing/homeless/HomelessnessPrevention/co-ordinator
'advising or assisting a person in understanding and managing their tenancy rights and responsibilities, including assisting a person in dispute about those rights and responsibilities'
67. Local authorities may need to give some thought to the potential for conflict of interest here, with local authority staff supporting people who are in dispute about tenancy responsibilities.
'advising or assisting a person in settling into a new tenancy'.
68. Support for resettlement may include different issues from support required whilst homeless, so existing housing support plans should always be reviewed when moving into settled accommodation.
MONITORING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DUTY
69. The Scottish Housing Regulator has a duty to inspect local authorities' homelessness services which includes housing support and may require to see evidence from local authorities that the duty is being carried out effectively. The Care Inspectorate, as the independent regulator of social care and social work services across Scotland, will regulate, inspect and support the improvement of housing and also has a role in commissioning housing support services.
70. Under the Concordat between Scottish Government and COSLA, local authorities develop and report on Single Outcome Agreements. Provision of housing support may play an important role in achieving objective outlined in these agreements.
71. The Scottish Government collects statistical information on homelessness applications, assessments, and outcomes and identified housing support needs. This information is published annually and on a quarterly basis in the Operation of the Homeless Persons Legislation in Scotland statistics. More detail on this is available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Housing-Regeneration/RefTables
NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS
72. With the agreement of local authorities, the Scottish Government has changed the amount of detail about support collected in two questions in the homelessness statistics ( HL1) return. These will identify whether an assessment of housing support needs was carried out, whether housing support was needed and whether this was provided. In discussion about the revised questions, local authority practitioners stressed that in many cases support is provided during the application while households are in temporary accommodation awaiting settled accommodation.
73. Full details of the changes to the HL1, introduced from July 2013, can be found at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0041/00418809.pdf
74. Local authorities are encouraged to refer to this Guidance when meeting the housing support duty to help achieve the best possible outcomes for homeless households.