Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Path to prevention

June 01 2022

Policy and Participation Manager of the Scottish homeless charity Cyrenians discusses a consultation on possible new homeless prevention legislation in Scotland. By Viki Fox

The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ (COSLA) consultation on the ‘Prevention of Homelessness Duties’ closed on 31 March 2022. Although those experiencing homelessness in Scotland have some additional rights to other parts of the UK, such as having no ‘priority need’ test, the hope is that this new legislation will bring Scotland more in-line with England and Wales who already have homeless prevention legislation.

The consultation came about due to an increased priority to develop wide-reaching prevention duties, as recommended by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). Off the back of this, the Prevention Review Group (PRG) was set up with a group of people who have lived and frontline experience of homelessness working alongside the Prevention Commission (PC). The recommendations made by the two groups were published in early 2021 in the document Preventing Homelessness in Scotland and this was the framework used in the consultation.

The aims of this consultation were to strengthen housing rights, improve joint working, increase positive outcomes for individuals and families and ensure consistency in delivery across services in Scotland, whilst recognising local circumstances. Legal changes will be included in the upcoming Housing Bill, which is expected next year. Key proposals include a duty to “ask and act” about homelessness on all public bodies, including prisons and schools, extending the timescale for prevention assistance from 56 days to six months, and an ability for local authorities to discharge their duty into non-traditional housing types, such as a return to the family home.

Cyrenians asked frontline workers and those with lived experience of homelessness about these proposals, and found that the changes would be positive in preventing homelessness if correctly implemented. But in order to do this, significant funding and resourcing needs to be in place, including significant in-depth training and support for all frontline staff. Frontline services including local authority and public bodies are struggling with long waiting times and capacity pressures. The Frontline Network’s survey at the end of last year showed that 46% of frontline workers in Scotland found the resources available to prevent homelessness were “low” or “very low”. And 64% of participants found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to access accommodation for those they support.

Another key concern is the availability of affordable property. There is a huge demand for properties in areas in Scotland such as Edinburgh, so Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates should be in-line with market rents. Some 73% of frontline workers stated that they found it “very difficult” or “difficult” to find private landlords willing to let to LHA claimants, and 72% found it “very difficult” or “difficult” to find private rented accommodation generally. In all, 67% were extremely concerned about the risks of their clients needing to choose between housing costs and other basic necessities. Also, many under 35s are only entitled to the Shared Accommodation rate, making private letting in some areas near impossible. Choice and control was a key theme that came up throughout Cyrenians’ discussions, but without having accommodation available to suit households needs, the choice can be extremely limited.

Having been through homelessness myself on several occasions, I think that if the proposals are implemented correctly, involving people with lived and frontline experience of homelessness at all stages, they have the potential to make a difference to some. For any legal change to be meaningful it is crucial that the correct resources need to be in place, and that individuals are aware of and can exercise their rights in practice.

  • To find out more about the work Cyrenians does, visit its website: