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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Glasgow City Council failing in its duty to homeless people

May 12 2016
Council is ignoring law, says Govan law centre

A Glasgow law centre which provided help to almost 200 rough sleepers using the city’s winter shelter claims that the city council is failing to meet its legal obligations to homeless people.

Govan Law Centre gave legal advice to 198 men and women sleeping at the Glasgow Winter Shelter at the City’s Lodging House Mission from December 2015 to March this year, and claims the vast majority were legally entitled to housing.

Lorna Walker, legal service manager for the law centre, said some clients she advised at the winter shelter had previously gone to Glasgow City Council’s homelessness services, but no homeless application had been submitted because it had wrongly been thought unnecessary.

Others had applied as homeless, but they had not been offered housing, though they should have been.

When she challenged decisions, accommodation was often found.

In six cases, Govan Law Centre started the process of legally challenging the council’s decision not to accommodate by submitting an application for a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. In each case accommodation was found within the day, which meant none of the cases went before a judge.

Walker said: “Many of the people that we spoke to were not aware of their legal rights.

“But when we looked at their situations we found that in the majority of cases the fact that they had not been accommodated was in clear breech of the council’s statutory duty.”

Since 2012, when the concept of “priority need” was abolished, all local authorities in Scotland have the duty to accommodate all unintentionally homeless people who can prove they have a local connection and a legal right to remain in the country.

Where a local connection cannot be proved, the council should refer the person to the housing team of the last local authority they were living in, and offer housing until the situation is resolved. The council should also offer accommodation to anyone who appeals a decision not to offer them somewhere to stay.

This year the winter shelter in Glasgow remained open for an additional month and numbers of those using shelters rose by 94 per cent in Glasgow and 38 per cent in Edinburgh compared to last year.

The Glasgow City Mission reported being full on 32 nights in 2015/16 – something which never happened in previous years. An average of 33 people used the shelter on any one night, compared to just 17 in 2014/15.

Meanwhile, the Bethany Christian Trust in Edinburgh has seen demand rise by 131% since 2013, with an average of 48 people using the shelter on any night during winter 2015/16.

Crisis has joined forces with the two charities to call for action from the Scottish Government.

Grant Campbell, chief executive of Glasgow City Mission, said: “We’ve witnessed a significant rise in demand for the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter.

“This is not just an issue around housing, but health also, and we should assume and be prepared for solutions which require a brave, determined and concerted effort by all to put an end to homelessness.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “Throughout the operation of the Winter Shelter we sought to ensure that anyone who spent a night at the shelter could receive support from homelessness services the next morning.

“We fully acknowledge the pressures that currently exist within the homelessness system. We are working closely with both the voluntary sector and the housing associations to improve access to emergency support and also longer term accommodation.”

Your rights:

In Scotland:

You have the right to be accommodated if you can prove you have a local connection to the authority (such as living there or having a family member living there), a legal right to remain, and did not mean to make yourself homeless. You can appeal a decision not to give you accommodation, and the local authority has a duty to house you while they investigate your appeal.

In England:

You have a right to be accommodated if you can show you have a local connection to the authority (such as living there or having a family member living there), a legal right to remain, did not mean to make yourself homeless and are in priority need. This includes those who are 16–17, under 21 but have been in care (or over 21 but vulnerable because they were in care) and those made vulnerable because they have left the army, prison or are fleeing domestic abuse. Those who have children, are elderly or disabled should also get priority. If you think you have been wrongly refused help, you can appeal the decision.

Find out more about priority need: