59. Effective housing management services will make a positive and significant contribution to homelessness prevention efforts. Good quality and continuously improving housing management services can have an impact on tenancy sustainment, particularly where policies and procedures explicitly reference homelessness prevention as an objective.
Glasgow Housing Association ( GHA) has developed a comprehensive Tenancy Sustainment Strategy, 9 based on sound evidence about the causes of tenancy failure, collected through detailed research. 10 The strategy has been endorsed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and recommended to all Housing Associations.
60. The following examples describe aspects of housing management as delivered by RSLs and local authority landlords, and areas of related public administration, where homelessness prevention should be specifically considered. Some aspects also have relevance for private sector landlords:
61. Access to Social Rented Housing Waiting Lists: Homelessness and housing crisis can be avoided when people can easily apply for social rented housing and understand the relevant rules governing waiting lists. Applying for housing through a Common Housing Register is likely to significantly simplify the application process and help maximise access to social housing by means of a single application form and other common forms and procedures. In some areas, common application and health needs assessment forms have already been developed to make the process of applying for housing easier and less bureaucratic. However, regardless of the methods used to provide access for people to local waiting lists for social rented housing, the local authority and partner RSLs should ensure that they publicise access routes effectively and in a range of formats and languages.
62. Housing Allocations: The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 as amended requires social landlords to allocate their housing in an objective and non-discriminatory way, based on an assessment of housing need. They are obliged to open their housing lists to anyone over the age of 16. They are required to award "reasonable preference" to those on the waiting list who currently reside in overcrowded or unsatisfactory conditions, in houses below the Tolerable Standard or in large families, as well as those who are homeless and threatened with homelessness.
63. Evidence suggests that when people are given informed choice in the allocations process they are more likely to sustain any resulting tenancy. 11 Choice in the type of housing offered and choice in the range of areas applicants can request when applying, when combined, are likely to lead to more successful tenancy outcomes. It is recognised that choice will be limited in some areas due to competing demand pressure; however the provision of a realistic assessment of an applicants' options and choices at the outset of an application are more likely to lead to a sustainable housing outcome. By ensuring that the full range of housing needs are recognised and by taking account of cumulative needs appropriately, applicants may be less likely to resort to using the homelessness route to access housing.
64. Housing providers should make appropriate use of the discretion they enjoy within housing legislation to manage their stock and make best use of it to meet individual needs. For example, encouraging and facilitating mutual exchange requests, transferring households to address under occupation or to partially alleviate overcrowding (as a short term measure), can all assist in preventing some of the tensions that can cause housing crisis and homelessness.
65. Nominations: Most local authorities have nominations agreements with relevant local RSLs, which provide access to housing association properties for people on the councils' waiting lists. By making optimal use of the local nominations arrangements, local authorities and RSLs can jointly provide additional options for people in housing need. Making best use of all available housing resources, and effectively managing the process, should ensure that people have access to the full range of stock to suit their needs. This calls for good communications, both strategically and operationally between the partners and the local arrangements should be transparent and effectively publicised.
66. Section 5 Referrals: The 2001 Act requires RSLs to give 'reasonable preference' to homeless households and to provide accommodation for those households assessed as being unintentionally homeless and in priority need by the local authority. Section 5 of the Act gives local authorities the power to require RSLs operating in their area to provide accommodation for homeless households. The responsibility to assess individual homelessness applications rests with the local authority.
67. Good communication links and effective outcomes monitoring procedures are vital in managing the Section 5 process and local authorities and RSLs should ensure that they share information appropriately to inform how operational procedures are being implemented.
68. Working with the Private Rented Sector: Local authorities now routinely work with the private rented sector through Private Landlord Registration, HMO Licensing or in the administration of Housing and Council Tax Benefit to claimants living in the sector. Engagement with the PRS has increased since the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. Increasingly local authorities are also working with the sector to increased since the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. Increasingly local authorities are also working with the sector to increase the availability of private rented stock for people who are at risk of homelessness either through Rent Deposit Guarantee Schemes or private sector leasing ( PSL) schemes. As a consequence local relationships are likely to be more developed than previously and through this process conditions in the sector continue to improve. As part of a recent review of the sector in Scotland a Good Practice Resource Pack was developed to support local authorities. The commencement of Section 11 on 1 st April 2009 provides additional opportunities to enhance local communication and aid mutual understanding and co-operation between relevant partners.
69. Getting people into PRS accommodation: Local authorities should consider how to make the most effective use of the following approaches to assist in the process of getting people into the sector, if appropriate, and sustaining them there:
- Rent deposit guarantee schemes;
- Provision of furniture packs and starter packs;
- Actively and routinely negotiating with private sector over terms and conditions of leases;
- Covering the cost of 2 rents - 28 day rule plus Discretionary Housing Payments ( DHPs) when people move between landlords or when a shortfall remains after LHA awarded;
- Fast tracking housing benefit applications to ensure people can begin paying rent promptly;
- Maintaining good communication links between landlords, housing benefit administration and support agencies to ensure early identification of vulnerable tenants in the event of missed rent payments.
70. Resettlement and tenancy sustainment to avoid repeat homelessness: Resettling a formerly homeless household appropriately is important if recurring homelessness is to be avoided. This is likely to be more sustained if consideration is given to the appropriateness of any settled accommodation offered but can also be assisted by the following:
- Short term low level support ( e.g. visiting to ensure 'settled-in', providing starter pack of furniture/household items);
- Longer term assistance ( e.g. training to address budgeting, cooking, 'life skills' or befriending to combat isolation);
- Specialised assistance and support ( e.g. to address health/employment needs);
- Assisting access to beneficial social networks; and
- Assisting access to employability services.
71. The Homelessness Task Force recognised that positive social networks create strong foundations for sustainable, healthy communities and a route to preventing homelessness and exclusion generally. The Scottish Government funds the post of Scottish Social Networks Co-ordinator to assist local authorities and their partners to develop awareness and understanding of the importance of good social networks, particularly befriending, mentoring and mediation. A Toolkit has been developed to assist in this process.
72. Having access to nutritious food is key to good physical and mental health and is particularly important for people coping with stress. Cookery classes can provide a helpful way to develop new skills and can also aid integration with wider social networks, build confidence and improve links to other services. Community Food and Health Scotland has just evaluated the impact of a two year activity programme funded by the Scottish Government to develop practice in the area. For further information contact email@example.com.
73. Access to employment services is a vital aspect for people resettling following a period of homelessness and is especially relevant for people who are additionally disadvantaged and excluded in other ways. Homelessness prevention strategies should include clear links with the full range of local employability and employment services and effective referral systems will assist in this process. The Scottish Homelessness and Employability Network is funded by the Scottish Government to develop knowledge and understanding of the issue. A part-time co-ordinator is employed to manage the network and to develop a toolkit for local authorities. The co-ordinator can be contacted at: SHEN@scsh.org.uk
74. Estate Management Services: Routine house visits, neighbour disputes and evidence of domestic abuse (signs to look for could include damage to internal fittings, door locks, pass doors etc), child protection issues, racial and other forms of harassment, anti-social behaviour remedies and associated support services are all aspects of estate management services. Improved communication between estates teams and prevention services is likely to benefit both parts of the service and could be developed through the use of an agreed homelessness risk checklist for estates staff. Information collected in this way is likely to also benefit the efforts of child protection services, perhaps through local Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) arrangements and is probably already in use for the development of broader reaching community safety services.
75. Repairs, alterations, adaptations and assistive technology: Local authorities are responsible for administering grants to adapt properties to suit particular needs. Landlords delivering repairs and maintenance services are also likely to be involved in assessing need and installing alterations and adaptations to meet particular needs within their own stock. Local agencies should work together closely to ensure that repairs and adaptations are installed timeously to assist in preventing avoidable homelessness. Some local authorities are making use of assistive technology to enable people to stay in their homes by sustaining their current living arrangements if appropriate. The emerging use of telecare and telehealth technologies presents opportunities for the prevention and management of homelessness, particularly when aligned with other forms of support. For example telehealth-care can be used for:
- The better management of environmental risks in the home, e.g. prevention of flood, fire;
- Motivational activities e.g. support to sustain a job;
- The home monitoring of health issues, e.g. dementia, diabetes and mental health problems;
- The management of supported accommodation to detect intruders or detect lack of activity.
76. Many areas are also using telecare technologies to support people who are the victims of domestic abuse by providing reassurance that a response will come if an alert is activated and providing a simple home security system. Highland Council has introduced telecare into the home of a young woman with a history of drug and alcohol misuse to assist sustain her tenancy whilst managing some of the impacts of her lifestyle on her home and neighbours.
77. Early Response to Rent Arrears: Early intervention in managing rent arrears is an accepted and embedded principle for local authorities and RSLs. Arrears must be tackled to prevent them from escalating to unacceptable and unmanageable levels for the landlord and the tenant. Good practice in arrears management promotes that every effort will be made to tackle arrears efficiently and sensitively with eviction only ever used as a last resort. As well as issuing letters indicating missed payments, home visits and/or face to face contact with tenants should be an integral aspect of arrears recovery methods. This is particularly important when dealing with tenants who have limited literacy skills and will assist the landlord in understanding if there are, e.g. housing benefit issues, which could be contributing to the arrears . Section 12 of the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 requires that sheriffs should consider reasonableness in repossession proceedings where rent arrears are due to a delay or failure in Housing Benefit.
78. Responsible landlords will want to ensure that they provide sufficient opportunities for tenants to pay outstanding arrears by agreeing appropriate instalment plans, which take account of other outgoings and debts and recognise the wider needs of the household. Where possible, and prior to any action to recover the tenancy, landlords should utilise all available means of recovering the debt, e.g. wage and bank account arrestment, deductions from ongoing benefit where appropriate and small claims actions for arrears up to the value of £3,000. Where the landlord is a RSL or the local authority, additional duties to prevent and alleviate homelessness are likely to have a bearing on any activity with a potential to lead to homelessness.
79. The commencement of section 11 of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 means that from April 2009, landlords other than the local authority are required to notify the local authority of any court action to recover possession. Information sharing is vital to ensure that independent advice services and financial inclusion services can effectively engage with people who are struggling with rent arrears and other debt to achieve the most sustainable outcome. The undernoted example of practice was positively evaluated in November 2008 as part of the HPIF (see reference 2).
East Lothian Council successfully bid for funding from the HPIF . The project was the first agreement in Scotland between a local authority and a Citizens Advice Bureaux to enable an external agency to have direct access to local authority finance information and as such offers valuable lessons for other local authorities considering similar arrangements. The immediate project outputs were the installation of the appropriate IT arrangements, a training programme and agreed operating protocols between the two CABs involved and the council and between the CABs and their clients and audit arrangements.
Now the systems are in place and fully operational it seems likely that this relatively small scale intervention can become an established way of working between agencies in East Lothian and there may be scope to extend these arrangements to other local agencies. Other local authorities in Scotland should also be able to benefit from this example.
80. Evictions do take place and the resulting homelessness for households, particularly those with children, can have devastating consequences. The de-stabilising effects of eviction are likely to be relevant for local communities as well as individuals. On receipt of any subsequent homelessness application and even if homelessness was assessed to be intentional, local authorities are obliged to provide a minimum of temporary accommodation if required and advice and assistance. The Code of Guidance sets out a local authority's accommodation duties to homeless households. Services involved in rent arrears work, both in local authorities and in RSLs, should have a full understanding of the impact on families of any action taken to evict.
81. Tenancy and Housing Support Services: Access to tenancy and/or housing support services is likely to be found within either social work or homelessness services. Housing support has an important part to play in preventing homelessness; although it can have limitations. Housing support is not a substitute for some of the more intensive and specialist support services that many people at risk of homelessness will need, e.g. substance misuse services, family counselling services etc. but it can complement those services.
82. Housing support covers a range of activities that allow people to maintain their accommodation, meet their duties and responsibilities as a tenant and get involved in the local community. Housing support can include advice on budgeting and debt management; assistance with benefit claims; maintaining the security of the dwelling; assisting with disputes with neighbours; and general counselling and advice. It will be important for services delivering housing support services to maintain good communication links with other support services and with housing management teams.
83. Housing Benefit Administration: Delays in administering Housing Benefit can create additional difficulties for households already vulnerable to homelessness for other reasons. Local authorities will wish to provide effective and sensitive services to people entitled to Housing/Council Tax Benefit and to ensure that services are publicised and promoted together with information on other welfare benefits. Good communication links are vital and should be established and managed, particularly between teams administering benefits and teams working to prevent homelessness. Formalised local protocols for sharing information will be helpful and should assist in ensuring that people entitled to benefit are receiving all available assistance in managing their financial affairs.
84. This includes making the most effective local use of Discretional Housing Payments ( DHPs) and payments on two homes, for example, when people are moving on from a period in temporary accommodation. This approach underpins an effective corporate approach to income maximisation and the management of debt.
85. By linking the use of DHPs directly to the Local Housing and Homelessness Strategies, local authorities could help to achieve some explicit objectives related to tenancy sustainment, assisting families and supporting vulnerable residents. DHPs can cover various types of shortfalls including:
- Rent Officer restrictions such as Local Reference Rent ( LRR), Single Room Rent ( SRR), size criteria or when the Local Housing Allowance ( LHA) does not meet the full rent cost;
- Rent Officer restrictions such as non-dependent deductions and income tapers.
86. By utilising the additional financial support to prevent homelessness and sustain tenancies the DHP can add value to the delivery of other support services. It could be helpful, for example, when there are relationship difficulties between parents and their children caused in part by financial difficulties; as well as helping to support young people under the age of 25 who, in the absence of more affordable options, may need assistance to sustain accommodation financially.