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Coronavirus prompts fast-tracked legislation ensuring people won’t have to live in limbo

Camille Furtado, Senior Campaigns and Public Affairs Officer - Scotland

The swift action taken by Scottish Government to tackle homelessness during the pandemic continues with amendments made today to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order. The changes equalise the law so that all people, not just families and pregnant women, in emergency accommodation must be rehoused into a more permanent home after 7 days.

While many of us are experiencing isolation and restrictions for the first time as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, they can be common for people who are homeless. Feelings of fear, isolation, loneliness and desperation were identified in our research with people stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation. But today’s fast-tracking of legislation should make these experiences a thing of the past.

The changes to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order signal a win for our A Life in Limbo campaign. Launched in 2017, the campaign was in response to reports from our members and frontline staff, that people were languishing in unclean and unsafe accommodation for months and years on end.

Through the efforts of our members and campaign supporters, we won the campaign and expected the changes to be passed in the parliament in May 2021. By bringing forward the introduction of this legislation to today and including it in a package of emergency measures to support people in the pandemic, the Scottish Government is making a strong commitment to end homelessness for good and making sure that everyone has somewhere safe and settled to call home. 

The temporary changes to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order include an amendment to allow for people who have been moved into hotels and B&B accommodation to stay there until 30 September 2020, for as long as that is the best option for them to self-isolate and adhere to social distancing guidelines. This is part of the Scottish Government’s public health commitment to ensure that people experiencing homelessness have access to accommodation to allow for self-isolation and social distancing.

Permanent changes to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order include:

  • Extending it to apply to all homeless applicants, limiting the amount of time a person experiencing homelessness can spend in unsuitable temporary accommodation to 7 days
  • Additional circumstances classifying accommodation as unsuitable if it:
    • Does not meet minimum accommodation safety standards
    • Is not within reasonable travelling distance of the person’s employment
    • Is not suitable for children to visit, where the person has access to non-resident children.
  • Supported accommodation provided by a third sector or charity that is providing health, child care or family welfare services
  • Other types and models of temporary accommodation which can be considered suitable by local authorities including shared tenancy, community hosting and rapid access accommodation.

Over the past few weeks we have seen other significant changes which will help prevent and end people’s homelessness. The Westminster government recently restored housing benefit rates to cover the lowest third of rents – and the impact of this in Scotland is huge. Many more homes are now affordable to people on benefits and we must seize this opportunity to support people to move into safe and stable homes.

The Scottish Government have also taken welcome action to prevent people from losing their homes by banning evictions for six months.

These changes will ensure people can safely self-isolate. But more than that, they provide our staff with the means to which prevent and end people’s homelessness.

At Crisis, we will continue to play our part and work with the Scottish Government and others to support local authorities to meet the new changes in legislation and ensure people are fast-tracked into safe and secure homes. 

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