1 This study aimed to examine the accommodation and support needs of homeless people and specifically of those assessed as intentionally homeless. It has taken account of the implementation of new legislation, the views and experiences of intentionally homeless households and service providers, and has established recommendations for policy and practice.
2 Currently under the Housing Act (Scotland) 1987, local authorities have to investigate if a homeless applicant in priority need is intentionally homeless, and offer temporary accommodation, advice and assistance. The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 (the 2003 Act) changes the duty to investigate to a power.
3 The 2003 Act requires local authorities to offer intentionally homeless households a short Scottish Secure Tenancy (short SST) and housing support for one year, with intended conversion to a permanent tenancy. Exceptions to the right to a short SST apply if the household had an SST terminated in the last year; if a household member has been evicted for Anti Social Behaviour ( ASB) in the last 3 years, or is subject to an Anti Social Behaviour order ( ASBO). If so, the duty to accommodate is limited to section 7 (hostel and short-stay) accommodation with support, although a short SST may be offered. In sum these changes establish "a floor of rights" and a ladder of accommodation and related support provision.
4 Research methods included: a literature review, an analysis of local authority statistical returns ( HL1s) to the Scottish Executive; a pilot pro-forma exercise designed to elicit information about the circumstances and support needs of households assessed as intentionally homeless over a 3 month period (in which 23 local authorities participated, covering 99 households); a survey of local authorities on accommodation and support needs and related provision and gaps (31 responses), and an interview programme covering 29 intentionally homeless households and staff in housing and support services in 4 local authority case study areas.
5 Key findings on intentionality assessments
- The proportion of homeless households assessed as priority need/ intentionally homeless is small and declining, from 11% in 2000-01 to 3.8% in 2003-04.
- Levels of assessment varied significantly between local authorities. Local policy and practice and operational discretion were key influences on this.
- Only 4 local authorities indicated that they had decided not to investigate intentionality, while 13 said that they would. The others had not yet reached a decision or did not reply to this question.
- Most local authorities are not routinely carrying out support assessments.
6 The characteristics of Intentionally Homeless Households (pro-forma findings)
- Most intentionally homeless households identified had children (55%) and almost half of those with children were lone parent households.
- Key reasons for homelessness included eviction for rent arrears (26%) and giving up accommodation assessed as suitable (14%).
- Repeat homelessness was significant for 53% of intentionally homeless households (pro-forma) and a third of service users interviewed.
- Both household circumstances and external influences prompted property abandonment, including harassment and violence (pro-forma). Over a quarter of service user interviewees had experienced vandalism, harassment or violence.
- Only 5 cases overall had been evicted for ASB or had had a short SST that failed. No household had an ASBO in force. One interviewee had been evicted for ASB but had successfully appealed the decision.
7 Professionals and Homeless People's Views on Intentionality Assessment
- While some service users did not understand the assessment and saw it as unfair, few appealed the decision. This reflected a lack of knowledge about options and rights, and a lack of confidence that appealing would make a difference.
- Reasons for intentionality decisions included that people gave up accommodation without seeking advice; that owner occupiers had sold their houses then applied as homeless, and prior eviction for arrears. ASB was perceived by staff as a minority reason. Some staff attributed the decline in intentionality assessment to an improved assessment process and stricter adherence to the Code of Guidance.
- While the research highlighted a range of support needs, including multiple and complex needs, many applicants' support needs had not been formally assessed.
8 Existing Provision and its capacity to meet needs
- There was no indication that the support needs of those assessed as intentionally homeless are distinguishable from those of homeless households in general, or that those only entitled to section 7 accommodation have unique needs. However the need for increased measures to prevent homelessness occurring, such as for rent arrears reasons, featured strongly.
- Local authorities are making extensive use of their mainstream stock as temporary homeless accommodation, and this stock can be used as short SSTs for intentionally homeless households. Additionally, the existing range of hostel and other non tenancy accommodation could meet section 7 requirements.
- There is a growing range of models of accommodation and support provision, and in most areas this includes temporary furnished flats, hostels and other non tenancy provision. Support models range across on site residential support to floating or visiting/ outreach support. Some services use both models.
- The levels and range of support services varied considerably across local authority areas, reflecting differences in policy, practice and resources.
- Most local authorities also have temporary or transitional accommodation to meet the needs of particular 'groups', e.g. women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, and young people. Innovation has generated new models for homeless people with alcohol problems, drug misuse, serious mental health problems and households with children, whether in mainstream or hostel type provision. Some services are being targeted to address multiple and complex needs and aim to include those who have not engaged with services.
- Shared accommodation ( e.g. hostels/ B&B) is often inappropriate for vulnerable households and tenancies with floating support are considered preferable. Non-engagement with support can prevent access to more permanent accommodation.
- Service users interviewed had varying experiences of support. Most of those who had received support, valued this. Others said they would welcome any support on offer, or indicated that they have no support needs. The most sought and valued forms of support were low level support and practical help with moving on from homelessness.
- Supporting People is now a key funding source for tenancy related support. Support costs vary with the intensity of individual needs. In some cases, the support needed exceeds the remit of housing support and requires the use of other budgets.
- The need for additional, appropriate, social rented accommodation (temporary and permanent) and the support required to sustain this, were key gaps identified to meet general, particular, multiple and/ or complex needs.
- The potential was identified for better targeted use of section 5 referrals to RSLs (under section 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) to expand opportunities of access to housing for intentionally homeless households as well as for homeless applicants generally.
- Significant gaps in support identified related to services for a diverse range of specific client groups, as well as for people with complex and multiple needs. Meeting these gaps would benefit both intentionally and other homeless households.
- While there was evidence of increased joint working and related improvements in homelessness prevention and support, there was little evidence of consistent use of section 5 referrals and there were indications that joint working could be developed further.
9 Recommendations for policy makers and practitioners included that:
- While no unique services are required for intentionally homeless households, better targeted, locally relevant and innovative services, may be required to meet particular and complex needs.
- Local authorities must assess the support needs of all intentionally homeless households to enable access to positive solutions. Protocols, procedures, monitoring and training may be required.
- Local authorities should review the current use of section 5 referrals and their potential relevance to intentionally homeless households.
- Further focus is required on the scope to improve information and advice to prevent evictions and related intentionality decisions, and to increase access to advocacy and appeals.
- Scottish Executive, Communities Scotland and partners should promote consistency in assessment through monitoring and inspection.
- Longer term, increased and flexible funding is needed for support services, including Supporting People and funding for specialist supported accommodation.
- The Scottish Executive must strive to ensure a suitable and adequate supply of accommodation, particularly in areas of acute shortages of social rented housing.
- The Scottish Executive should consider the feasibility of establishing an accessible database on models of provision as a potential resource to aid local authorities and their partners in service planning and innovation.
- The Scottish Executive should issue relevant Guidance, including on discharge of duty and on section 11 notices, as section 11 of the 2003 Act requires local authorities to be informed by other landlords when recovery of possession actions are being raised.