After section 3

Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:45 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 2:45 pm, 5th March 2003

Group 3 is on the assessment of need for housing or other support services. Amendment 5 is grouped with amendments 11, 13 and 14.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

Amendment 5 would introduce a requirement for local authorities to consider a household's support needs as well as its accommodation needs when undertaking a homelessness assessment.

The experience of many local authorities is that tenancies break down quickly if support is not in place. If that happens, it wastes local authority time and resources and damages a homeless person's future prospects.

Support can be a key feature in sustaining a tenancy. My amendment 5 would better identify those who need help. Local authorities are best placed to identify problems because of their role in securing accommodation. I suspect that the minister will say that housing officials are not best placed to offer support. I am not suggesting that they should: their duty would be to secure such support, not to provide it.

If the minister is unwilling to accept the reasoning behind my amendment 5, the very least that she could do would be to promise to try to give an undertaking to review the process at an early stage. That would ensure that the same applicants are not coming round and round again, with monotonous regularity, like suitcases on a carousel.

I move amendment 5.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

From the point of view of many members of the Social Justice Committee, support needs are central to the effectiveness of the bill. All of us, in common with housing professionals, have experience of the revolving-door syndrome. People are housed, experience problems of one sort or another, and, as Lyndsay McIntosh rightly said, are unable to sustain their tenancy and lose it or get put out. They then come back into the system as intentionally homeless, with all the problems that that definition causes, and go back round the system, or they disappear into the woodwork to appear again at a later stage.

It is vital to the achievement of the Executive's objectives in abolishing priority need that support needs are dealt with properly and that support is put in place. The Social Justice Committee accepted that it is not possible to put a price on the bill or to know what support or mechanism is required until we have seen the homelessness and local housing strategies and know in detail where we stand on local requirements and about the facilities that are in place at the moment. Nevertheless, it does not follow from that that we cannot deal with support needs to a degree.

Amendments 11, 13 and 14 involve a mechanism that uses the trigger of a person's becoming homeless to identify not only the person's homelessness status, which local authorities have to do anyway, but whether the person requires additional support if they are to sustain a tenancy.

My suggestion involves a legislative route that links into the statement that ministers propose to make in 2005, as set out in section 3. I readily accept that what I suggest can be done in many other ways, in particular by administrative fiat. If I am to be satisfied on the matter, I want to hear quite a strong statement from the minister on what ministers intend to do about support as we move towards 2005.

Will ministers take on board the importance of the trigger point that the homelessness assessment provides? Will they look towards putting in place the resources that local authorities will need? Are they prepared to work in partnership with local authorities and, if necessary, to crack the whip at local authorities that are not moving forward as they should?

The matter is one of partnership, which must be matched right across the board for the objective, which is central to the success of the bill, to be achieved. If it is not dealt with satisfactorily, we will have problems. On that basis, I ask the minister to give careful consideration to support needs and how provision fits into the later stages of the procedure.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The SNP supports Lyndsay McIntosh's amendment 5, as we did a similar amendment at stage 2. We also support Robert Brown's amendments 11 and 13, which are similar. We oppose amendment 14, which in our view would delay the implementation of inquiries into intentionality until a progress and intent statement has been prepared. Our view is that there can be no justification for waiting for such a statement before rights are given to those most in need.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 3:00 pm, 5th March 2003

I make it absolutely clear at the outset that the Executive fully accepts that the provision of support plays an extremely significant part in preventing and resolving homelessness. We take on board the points that have been made in the debate so far.

I certainly understand the motives of members who want effective support services to be established. I listened to Lyndsay McIntosh's comments this afternoon, and know that Robert Brown has mentioned the revolving-door syndrome often. Of course, we must take action to address that issue. As a result, I think that I am able to give the required reassurances about ministerial determination to resolve the problems that we face.

However, there are some problems with this group of amendments. Amendment 5 would require the local authority to assess the support that is required to enable a priority need unintentionally homeless applicant to sustain the permanent accommodation that the authority is obliged to provide and then make reasonable efforts to provide that support.

Amendments 11, 13 and 14 take a different approach and require the local authority to assess the need for housing support services for all households that are either assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness. Although the applicant must be notified of the outcomes of the assessment, the amendments do not go so far as to impose a duty to meet the identified needs.

Concern was expressed at earlier stages of the bill's passage and by the committee about the resource implications of the proposals. We have given assurances that resources are in place to ensure the delivery of the bill's provisions on the expansion of priority need. However, the amendments would mean that local authorities would be faced with a further, uncosted duty that was not recommended in the homelessness task force report and which has not been consulted on.

As I said at the beginning, I have no doubt about the importance of support.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

On the minister's assurance that resources are in place, will she also assure us that there will be full consultation with housing providers to ensure that they are satisfied that there are adequate resources to provide this much-needed support?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Yes. All our comments this afternoon will make it clear that we will not rush into the bill's implementation. It serves no one's interests to implement amendments and not have in place the provision and resources for local authorities and local communities. We will engage in full consultation. Indeed, I can assure the member that we will consult the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and all key stakeholder interests to ensure that the provision is in place.

Everyone who is involved in the debate recognises the importance of support. However, I do not think that the best way of delivering it is by imposing a blanket legislative duty that covers all homeless applicants. After all, we have recognised the importance of support through the homelessness strategies, which already require councils to consider carefully the support needs of homeless people.

In what I hope is a direct response to Robert Brown, we are determined to ensure that resources are in place and that we have strategies and services that meet the various complex needs, although I might not use the phrase "crack the whip" in relation to local authorities.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I am sure that the minister is aware that many homeless people do not require any support at all; they simply need decent houses to live in. However, many people who find themselves homeless have support needs that go beyond housing. How will the minister work with local authorities to ensure that the support offered to vulnerable people and families is not all driven through their housing needs and by a housing approach when, in fact, a much broader approach that includes education and social work is required?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

One of the successes of the homelessness task force and, indeed, of all the housing legislation that the Parliament has passed so far and which, I hope, we will pass this afternoon is the recognition that the problem of homelessness is not addressed simply through the provision of housing, important though that is.

Johann Lamont is right to flag up the importance of housing supply, and the fact that other services play a significant role in tackling the causes of homelessness and sustaining some of the solutions that we have put in place. Our work with local authorities has been constructive in that respect. For example, social work in Glasgow has made its contribution and Greater Glasgow NHS Board has played a significant part. Such an approach has demonstrated the step change that there has been in delivering a solution to the profound problems of homelessness in Scotland. Johann Lamont is right to pay tribute to local authorities, and we want to work with them within such a culture. We do not want to underestimate the challenges that authorities face in providing such support; nonetheless, we are committed to resolving homelessness in Scotland and will be robust in our discussions to ensure that we deliver on that basis.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The two points at which the issue will become prominent are when the Executive makes its statement on the abolition of priority need and the interim objectives and when it considers revising homelessness guidance. Will the minister assure me that support will be prominent in those aspects?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am happy to give the assurance that support will be prominent, although other issues might also arise. On behalf of the Scottish Executive, I give the assurance that whoever is minister at the time will be required to ensure that support exists. We genuinely understand that support is part of the answer. We will not get what we want if we do not understand that.

The way that things are moving will help us in that because, through transitional housing benefit, there has been and continues to be a significant increase in the support services provided to address the needs of homeless people. Now is an opportune time for us to discuss such issues.

In Glasgow alone, we are aware that service provision has increased by some £10 million through transitional housing benefit. That will increase again by an equivalent amount when the projects identified through the pipeline process are taken into account.

Although we are not yet in a position to assess the extent of provision throughout Scotland, local authorities are already increasing existing services and making them available to those people in greatest need through the supporting people initiatives. Through that kind of investment infrastructure, we can make progress.

I am sorry that we cannot accept the amendments, but we do so for the proper reasons—we do not think that the amendments take us forward in answering the questions. However, we understand the motives, and we believe that what we propose answers those motives, if not perhaps the direct legislative point that has been put today.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

The point that Johann Lamont made was important. It is not a question of housing alone; it is a question of many other disciplines. The minister mentioned the health boards, and their involvement is important. In relation to drug problems, the homeless addiction team is also important.

I say to Robert Brown and to others who might support amendment 5 that if we broaden the approach too far at this stage, we will lose much of the current impetus. It is important that we stay focused. Amendment 5 would make the approach far too broad. We need to get the groups working together effectively. Only in that way will we solve what we know to be a complex problem, which is not about housing alone.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

I have heard everything that has been said. I say to Johann Lamont that it was not my intention that support would only ever come through local authority housing departments. There is a crucial role for health and education. It was never my intention to sideline the amendment down one track.

Homelessness is one of the most extreme forms of social exclusion and it can be difficult for some people to maintain a tenancy. The minister's figures show that, between 1 January and 30 September 2002, 2,030 households applied more than once for help from their local authority, and 189 of them applied for help more than three times. It is well recognised that the problem is not only about securing accommodation; the current homelessness legislation does not provide for assistance and support to maintain that accommodation. The minister mentioned that there would be a cost implication, but the short-term cost implication would have long-term benefits. For that reason, I press amendment 5.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 4

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fabiani, Linda, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Harding, Mr Keith, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, Monteith, Mr Brian, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Robison, Shona, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Young, John
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 33, Against 61, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 5 disagreed to.