Homelessness and accommodation
In Scotland the best guide to the number of homeless people is the number of applications made to local authorities by people presenting as homeless. The last 14 years have seen a rise in homeless applications from 29,068 in '89-'90 to 54,829 in '03-'04, although the recent increase is normally accepted as being due to increased rights for people affected by homelessness as a result of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003. These figures are drawn from the Scottish Executive's HL1 dataset, where every time a household presents as homeless the local authority is required to fill in an HL1 form which is then sent to the Executive.
These figures also show that two thirds of all homeless applications are from single people. In addition to this many people will not appear in these statistics as they believe they may not be eligible for (or do not wish) any help from the local authority. This is often referred to as 'hidden homelessness'. For example people sleeping on a friend's couch or having to stay with their families, or accessing voluntary sector support services.
The number of households staying in temporary accommodation has also risen steadily from 4420 in June '02 to 6574 in March '04. This is due to people having increased rights to this form of accommodation as a result of the new legislation, which means that all people presenting to their local authority as homeless are entitled to a minimum of temporary accommodation.
Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. You will qualify for permanent accommodation if you are 'eligible', i.e. legally homeless or threatened with homelessness, in priority need, have a local connection and are not intentionally homeless. If you are homeless but do not meet the other criteria (priority need/intentionality/local connection), then you are entitled to temporary accommodation, advice and assistance from the local authority while you secure your own accommodation.
Local social work services also have a responsibility for some homeless people. They have a duty to provide accommodation for children and young people over 16 who are leaving care or who are in need for other reasons.
You will be considered to be in 'priority need' for housing if you are homeless and:
- You are pregnant, or normally live with someone who is pregnant
- You have children under 16, or under 19 if they are in full-time education who normally live with you, even if they are not living with you at the moment because of your circumstances. This includes step-children or foster children
- You are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or fire
- You are aged 16 or 17
- You are 18 to 20 years old, and your accommodation at the moment poses a threat to your safety or well-being (for example, serious misuse of drugs and/or alcohol, or sexual incidents that you are not comfortable with)
- You are 18 to 20 years old and were previously in care up until you finished school
- You are experiencing domestic abuse (which includes any behaviour that makes you afraid or distressed – it does not need to include actual violence)
- You are experiencing abuse because of your colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual preference.
You may also be in priority need if you fall into one of the following groups. In some cases you may have to show that your situation has made you vulnerable:
- You are homeless after leaving hospital, prison or the armed forces
- You are in old age
- You suffer from mental ill-health
- You suffer from a personality disorder
- You have a physical disability
- You suffer from serious ill-health
- You have a learning disability
- You have experienced a disaster or emergency in your previous accommodation, for example a flood or fire
- You have recently suffered a miscarriage or abortion.
Certain people who arrive in this country, or who are returning from a period living abroad do not qualify for housing under homelessness laws (www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk). For example, many asylum-seekers (but not all) are excluded, as is someone who has spent a significant time living away from the UK even if they are a UK citizen.
Rough sleeping is the most extreme form of homelessness, but not all people who are homeless will need to sleep rough. Figures from the Scottish Executives HL1 dataset for 2002-2003 suggest that across Scotland, in 13% of applications, households had a member who had slept rough at some time in the previous three months. Many people who sleep rough will not seek assistance from their local authority, therefore the numbers who experience it is expected to be much higher. Glasgow Homelessness Network have a national common monitoring system, which records the numbers of people sleeping rough across Scotland and the contributing factors and complexity of problems and needs associated with those that do. GHN's data-set illustrates that during the 6-month period between October 2004 and March 2005, 1,092 individual people had at least one episode of rough sleeping in Scotland. 85% were male, with an average age of 32.
Rough sleeping can be caused by a variety of structural barriers including unemployment and housing capacity. Personal and social contributing factors can include mental and physical health issues, addiction issues and relationship breakdowns. Rough sleeping can also cause serious health problems, or exacerbate existing health issues. Illnesses that are closely associated with rough sleeping and poverty include tuberculosis, malnutrition, and severe dental problems. Other health problems in society such as alcoholism, mental illness and physical disabilities are even more debilitating for people who sleep rough, since they may have no shelter or money to manage the problem. People without shelter can easily get frostbite, get infections, or be victims of violence, even in public shelters. Finding appropriate health care can be a difficult challenge for someone who is sleeping rough.
Homelessness in the wider context can affect anyone – a missed paycheck, a health crisis or an unpaid bill can easily put families at risk of homelessness. Most people become homeless specifically because they are having a housing crisis, although some will have other needs for services and increased incomes. It is important to realise that their needs are best met once the family is in permanent housing – not while they are in transitional housing or shelters. Housing must be first if they are to develop a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.
Local authority accommodation
When you make a homeless presentation to your local authority, they have a duty to provide you with advice and assistance on the type of accommodation you are looking for. They must provide you with temporary accommodation until you secure this accommodation. Of course, if you meet the criteria above (priority need/local connection/intentionality) – then the local authority must provide you with permanent accommodation. Sometimes, you will be offered temporary accommodation until permanent accommodation becomes available.
Housing associations and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs)
Most RSL's (e.g. housing associations) have a housing register or waiting list of people who have applied to rent their accommodation. If you are homeless, you can apply directly to a housing association for accommodation.
Priorities for accommodation are normally made under the following headings:
- Poor health made worse by housing conditions.
- Lack of bathroom or toilet.
- Inadequate number of bedrooms for size of family.
- Length of time you have lived in the area.
- Length of time on waiting list.
Once accepted onto their waiting list you may have a long time before you are offered accommodation. However, in Scotland your local authority can make what is called a 'Section 5' referral – which means that it can instruct a local RSL/Housing association to provide accommodation for people who are homeless and meet the usual criteria (priority need/local connection/intentionality).
Use the contacts below for help or to find out more information. Alternatively, if you need someone to talk to about how you're feeling, call Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 between 6pm and 2am. Remember your call is confidential and free.
- Shelter The Shelter website provides information about a range of housing options, including help for homeless people, private renting and home ownership. www.scotland.shelter.org.uk
- Citizens Advice – Scotland www.cas.org.uk
- Scottish Council for Single Homeless www.scsh.org.uk
- Big Issue In Scotland www.bigissuescotland.com
- Homeless link www.homeless.org.uk/info-services
- Inside Housing – Scotland www.insidehousingscotland.co.uk
- Jobcentre Plus www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk
- Poverty Alliance www.povertyalliance.org
- Teenagers Leaving Home www.leavinghome.info
- Scottish Refugee Council www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk