Investigation suggests homeless are illegally turned away by councils

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People who have nowhere to sleep or are about to lose their homes are being turned away illegally by councils, according to a BBC Scotland investigation

Local authorities have a legal obligation to find accommodation for people facing homelessness.

Government statistics show that most people are made homeless following a family breakdown or household dispute.

Legal experts told the BBC that people were being unlawfully turned away by councils, despite their statutory duty.

The Legal Services Agency, a charity which provides legal advice to vulnerable people, said last year they saw some 200 people in Glasgow, many of whom had been turned away unlawfully without accommodation or help.

Solicitor Alastair Houston said people were either being told immediately that they were not entitled or that there were no temporary places available.

Houston said it was a “breach of their statutory duties” for local authorities to fail to provide temporary accommodation to someone presenting as homeless.

He stated that council casework staff would often send people to him to get a lawyer’s letter threatening the local authority with a judicial review.

“The thinking seems to be that the council will prioritise those who are clutching a legal letter if they don’t get the assistance they are entitled to,” he added.

Any person has a right (under section 28 of the Housing (Scotland) Act) to make a homelessness application to their local authority.

The council should then make inquiries to investigate:

  • whether a person is homeless
  • whether they are “intentionally homeless”
  • whether the person has a local connection.

A person has a right (under section 29 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987) to temporary accommodation while the local authority is considering their homelessness application.

The law states that a person has the right to make a homelessness application and government guidance says they must always be recorded as such if they have a homelessness reason.

This must happen – even if they are also applying for advice under what is known as “Housing Options“.

Being recorded as officially homeless ensures the applicant is not missing out on access to temporary accommodation and additional support.

However, figures obtained via a series of coordinated freedom of information (FOI) requests highlight that in many cases people with homeless reasons are only recorded under Housing Options.

The figures show a large variation in how many people recorded under Housing Options do not make a homeless application.

If people are recorded as “Housing Options”, they do not have to be provided with a bed and nor would they show up in homeless statistics.

Housing options is an advice scheme which began in 2010 and is based on prevention of homelessness.

A spokesman for Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership said: “Going through the Housing Options process does not in any way prevent someone from making a formal homelessness application.

“In Glasgow, some 58% of people who are assessed through Housing Options are supported to go on and make a homelessness application, which is well above the national average for all local authorities.

“Out of all the major cities in Scotland, Glasgow ranks highest for the number of Housing Options cases that progressed to a formal homelessness application.”

The spokesman added: “However, we fully accept there have been issues in relation to access to temporary accommodation.

“We have been working with the Scottish Housing Regulator on a voluntary basis to address these issues and, as a result, we have reviewed and significantly reformed our service to improve the support we provide to those affected by homelessness.

“We have invested £12m in two 30-bedded emergency accommodation units and have been working extensively with social and private landlords to expand the number of temporary homes available to the homelessness service in Glasgow.

“We have also developed a very strong partnership with third sector organisations to ensure we work more effectively with the most chaotic individuals affected by homelessness.”

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