Housing Options Work
50. Housing Options Work has an important and valuable contribution to make to homelessness prevention activity. There has been growing recognition of the potential value of providing a range of options when people make enquiries about housing. John Hills' review of social housing, 8 published in 2007, highlighted the success of the "housing options approach" in preventing homelessness. To achieve most benefit from this approach, people should be assisted to understand the range of potential options available to them, in their area and based on their personal circumstances, at the earliest opportunity. This is likely to be when they first apply to be included on a housing waiting or transfer list, through a Common Housing Register or with an individual local authority or RSL. Other services and agencies will need to be familiar with the local approach being taken to ensure effective signposting and referral.
51. By utilising a "diagnostic" approach a personal housing plan can be developed and agreed with the applicant, which more clearly lays out how their housing needs can best be met. The most appropriate option may not be housing in the social rented sector but could include options in the private rented sector, home ownership (including low-cost options), adaptations or alterations to their existing home, mutual exchanges or actions to preserve existing living arrangements. Personal housing plans could be developed to suit the applicant household, regardless of their current tenure status. This would ensure, for example, that young people living with family members, tenants either in the private or social rented sectors or the armed forces and owner occupiers would receive appropriate advice and could agree a plan for going forward based on a realistic assessment of their particular needs.
52. Decisions about the most appropriate use of the "options" approach when an applicant contacts a council to make a homelessness application need to be balanced with the legal duty to respond to the application. It may be entirely appropriate to offer a housing options interview as a precursor to completion of a homelessness application; however, if the applicant is homeless at the time of interview or threatened with homelessness within 2 months, a homelessness application should also be completed. Efforts to prevent homelessness should then progress alongside the routine administration of the homelessness application, particularly where a diagnostic assessment indicates that a real opportunity exists to prevent it.
53. Applicants threatened with homelessness as a result of repossession should be provided with appropriate advice and information, including referral where required to independent sources of financial and other relevant advice. Applicants in this situation should also be assessed for suitability for the revised Mortgage to Rent Scheme or the Mortgage to Shared Equity Scheme. Both schemes were introduced by the Scottish Government as part of the Home Owners' Support Fund.
54. Local authorities may wish to target housing options to the higher risk groups first as part of a revised general approach they develop over time. If fully developed, the Housing Options approach can also provide opportunities to identify other needs, e.g. health and social care needs, employability support needs and welfare and benefits advice needs etc. If other needs are identified it will be important to ensure that appropriate assessment and referral mechanisms are in place to trigger suitable responses, which will in turn lead to more sustainable outcomes.