2. HOUSING CONTEXT
18. This Strategy is aimed at local authorities, the police, the Scottish Prison Service and health boards as Responsible Authorities, as well as housing professionals. In working together to minimise the potential risk each sex offender may pose it is important that there is a common understanding about the housing context in Scotland.
19. The range of housing for sex offenders under MAPPA includes the:
- private rented sector;
- owner-occupied sector;
- specialist housing; and
- affordable rented housing.
20. Sex offenders under MAPPA live in all housing tenures and there is no presumption that such offenders will be housed in the affordable rented sector. Social landlords will provide applicants with advice on their housing options and this may include having to direct those seeking housing towards the private rented sector or low - cost home ownership options.
Private rented sector
21. Some sex offenders under MAPPA may choose, or may need, to rent housing from a private landlord. There are around 273,000 properties in the private rented sector. The registration of all private sector landlords under Part 8 of the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 provides local authorities with comprehensive information on the private rented sector for the first time.
22. The provision of information to private sector landlords is a matter for the police, who have discretion on disclosure on a case-by- case basis.
23. The majority of homes in Scotland are owner occupied. Some sex offenders will return to housing they own and in such cases the Responsible Authorities will assess and manage the risks to public safety. The MAPPA guidance provides more information on supervision strategies available to the Responsible Authorities.
24. Most experts consider that high-profile/high-risk offenders are better managed in lower-profile housing out of the public eye, that is normal housing stock, with access to local programmes. However, temporary housing available through specialist support providers such as Safeguarding Communities Reducing Offending ( SACRO) may be suitable for offenders who have been institutionalised for long periods of time. Requests for such accommodation need to be made at an early stage to give adequate time for the sharing of relevant information.
25. Where a local authority or RSL leases a property to a specialist provider such as SACRO for the housing of sex offenders under MAPPA, the local authority or RSL will agree protocols with the specialist provider covering information sharing and any special or particular arrangements for managing the tenancy.
Affordable rented housing
26. Affordable rented or social housing is housing owned and managed by local authorities and Registered Social Landlords (collectively known as 'social landlords'). Across Scotland there are 26 local authorities and around 160 RSLs who have such housing. In most areas there are several RSLs with housing. A few RSLs have housing in different areas across the country, but the majority are relatively small locally-based landlords. This brings particular challenges to meeting the housing needs of sex offenders.
27. There are around 600,000 homes in the affordable rented sector in Scotland. Only around 10% of these homes become available for letting each year. A percentage of these will go to existing social tenants who move home and to applicants who are homeless. Only some of the vacant properties are therefore available for new applicants. Scottish Government statistics suggest there are around 130,000 applicants for affordable rented housing across Scotland. So, the availability and demand for housing may mean that there is less flexibility to address the particular needs of sex offenders.
Obligations on social landlords
28. The shortage of housing means that social landlords have to have rules about how they will allocate their housing. These are set out in their allocation policy. There is legislation that governs what local authorities and RSLs must and must not do. The practice guide for social landlords, published by the Scottish Government in March 2011, provides more details on the constraints on social landlords. It is available online at www.scotland.gov.uk/allocations and key points to note are:
- anyone aged 16 or over has the right to be admitted to a housing list, sometimes called a housing register. However, the right to be admitted to the list is not a right to be allocated a house;
- after a social landlord has admitted an applicant to their housing list or register they have to decide on the priority of their application;
- reasonable preference has to be given to persons who:
a) (i) are occupying houses which do not meet the tolerable standard; or
(ii) are occupying overcrowded houses; or
(iii) have large families; or
(iv) are living under unsatisfactory housing conditions; and
b) to homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness;
- reasonable preference means that persons in the above groups are given preference for available housing over and above other applicants; and
- social landlords must allocate their housing in line with their allocation policy. That policy can, however, set out situations where the landlord may exceptionally allocate outwith normal practice. So for example, one local authority's allocation policy allows for discretionary allocations in situations where released prisoners are returning to the area and the police and the Criminal Justice Service have identified these individuals as a serious threat to the public. Another's allocation policy allows for exceptions where immediate housing is required or cannot otherwise be dealt with under the policy.
29. There are also particular obligations on local authorities to provide housing for those who are homeless and also for children where they require it or where it would safeguard or promote their welfare. These obligations will impact on decisions about allocating affordable rented housing.
30. All social landlords must also take into account data protection, equalities and human rights legislation when allocating their housing.
Applying for housing
31. Sex offenders under MAPPA may apply for housing direct by completing an application form. This puts their name on a housing list or register. This is a list of applicants for affordable rented housing kept by local authorities and RSLs or set up jointly by a local authority and some or all RSLs in a specific area.
32. Under the terms of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, sex offenders under MAPPA have to tell the police of a change of home address within three days. The Responsible Authorities should tell the SOLO of known sex offenders. Applicants may also voluntarily declare on an application form or in discussions with housing officers that he or she is a sex offender and their applications should be referred to the SOLO in local authorities or Link Officer in RSLs. Landlords should, as soon as possible, tell the Responsible Authorities about any such applications and should seek advice on the housing that may be manageable and for details of any restrictions on where the sex offender can live.
Different approaches to allocating housing
33. The allocation system is the way in which social landlords hold applicants on a housing list or register, prioritising applicants to reflect their aims and priorities. Not all social landlords allocate their housing in the same way, the traditional method of allocating housing has been by a points-based housing list. Under this approach social landlords assess each application for housing, and award points on the housing needs of the applicant. When a property becomes available, the social landlord assesses applicants on the list for a match with the type and size of property available.
34. Some landlords are moving away from a points based housing list in favour of a choice-based lettings system. Under this approach the social landlord categorises the applicant according to their housing need, usually using a banding system with categories such as gold, silver and bronze. Landlords advertise vacant properties and applicants make a bid for those that they consider meet their preferences and needs. The social landlord makes a list of all bids received for each advertised property and an offer is made to the applicant with the highest level of priority who will make best use of the property and who has the earliest date of registration. Such an approach gives more choice to tenants, but may result in a need to restrict choice for some applicants, such as sex offenders returning to the community.
35. RSLs should contact the SOLO before they allow a bid from a sex offender under a choice-based letting scheme. A housing provider should restrict choice of housing if consultation with the Responsible Authorities suggests that it is reasonable to do so in the interests of public safety.
36. Whatever approach is used, the allocation policy should contain sufficient flexibility to allow for allocations outwith normal practice in exceptional circumstances.
37. Social landlords do not manage their housing in isolation. Many local authorities and RSLs have agreements under which local authorities can refer applicants to RSLs for housing. This is on top of more formal arrangements under Section 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.
38. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001  and Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced rights for homeless persons to temporary and settled accommodation, and these rights apply to homeless offenders, including homeless sex offenders. Local agreements between local authorities and RSLs may mean that referrals under Section 5 no longer operate. However, homeless sex offenders represent an increased risk due to the lack of housing for effective monitoring and management. Therefore, whatever the referral arrangements, social landlords should not give sex offenders under MAPPA priority for housing merely because they are such offenders. They should, however, ensure that systems are in place to deal speedily with applications from such offenders
39. In recent years there has been a drive towards further collaboration between social landlords to make it easier for applicants to access affordable rented housing. As a result many landlords now form part of a Common Housing Register ( CHR). CHRs generally operate in local authority areas and many have a single register of applicants, a common application form and a common source of advice and assistance for applicants. Within this broad framework individual landlords may however retain their separate allocation policies.
40. Once a social landlord has allocated an applicant affordable rented housing they will, in most cases, be granted a Scottish Secure Tenancy. This may not be possible immediately on release from prison and a period of accommodation in temporary housing may be necessary. A focus on permanent housing helps the Responsible Authorities in their support, supervision and management of the offender.
41. A Scottish Secure Tenancy gives the tenant certain rights:
- to sublet their tenancy, exchange their house or take in a lodger. They can also assign (sign over) their tenancy to anyone who has lived in their house as their only home for at least six months. The tenant must get written permission from their landlord, who can refuse permission if there are good reasons for doing so. RSLs should, on receipt of a request from a sex offender under MAPPA to transfer, exchange or assign their home or to take in a lodger, contact the SOLO before they give consent. A housing provider should consider withholding consent, if consultation with the Responsible Authorities suggests that it is reasonable to do so in the interests of public safety;
- to pass on their home to a spouse, civil partner or cohabitee; or family member or carer living in the property; and
- to security:
- a social landlord cannot evict a tenant from their home without a court order. The grounds for a court to grant an order are set out in Schedule 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 and are limited in scope. Outwith these grounds the social landlord cannot force a tenant to leave the property. Where the Responsible Authorities assess that public safety is being compromised and cannot be managed safely discussions should take place about possible actions ( see Chapter 3 of this Strategy), including discussions with the offender about a voluntary move of housing;
- the eviction of sex offenders under MAPPA can lead to the heightening of risk, through offenders being lost from the system or not finishing rehabilitation programmes. Eviction of a tenant on conviction of a registered sex offence should not then be a matter of course, but the social housing provider should take into account both the individual's circumstances and wider community safety considerations. Landlords should talk to the Responsible Authorities via the SOLO if they are contemplating eviction. In the event that eviction is necessary, the Responsible Authorities will need early notification to make plans for the future housing arrangements for that offender;
- SOLOs should be aware that section 11 of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 gives a duty to all landlords to give the local authority notice of proceedings of possession (other than where the landlord is the local authority). While section 11 does not give a duty to local authorities themselves, they will want to make sure that any planned evictions of sex offenders following grant of a court order are notified effectively within their organisations and to SOLOs;
- a tenant who is convicted of an offence may keep their tenancy when they are in prison. If, however, they are in receipt of Housing Benefit, this would stop after 13 weeks, at which time they could opt to terminate the tenancy, pay for the tenancy by other means or they would then accrue arrears (which could lead to eviction). The manageability of the tenancy upon their release would need to be considered and managed.
42. In limited circumstances social landlords may grant tenants a Short Scottish Secure Tenancy, these are situations where the property is to be let on an expressly temporary basis or where an order for eviction has previously been granted against the tenant because of their antisocial behaviour, or where they are currently subject to an Antisocial Behaviour Order. The Short Scottish Secure Tenancy has many of the same rights as a full Scottish Secure Tenancy but the tenancy cannot be succeeded to when the tenant dies and the right to stay in the property is more limited than with a full Scottish Secure Tenancy.