Almost one in three people making a homeless application in Glasgow prior to the Covid-19 pandemic were turned away, an inquiry has found, despite the city council’s legal duty to provide temporary accommodation.
The report by the Scottish Housing Regulator found that before Covid-19 changed council homeless service provision in March, 1,471 households were turned away without being offered accommodation by the local authority.
Almost 300 people said they would be forced to sleep rough in the city as a result. More than 200 families were turned away. In more than 50 cases the council did not know where these people – or their children – would sleep that night.
Shelter Scotland said the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) “inquiry into Glasgow City Council’s services for people who are experiencing homelessness” provided evidence of “systemic failures that have led to “thousands being denied their rights”.
The inquiry was launched last December, after Shelter Scotland launched legal action against Glasgow City Council over its practice of “gatekeeping” – where people who present as homeless are refused their legal rights.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart told The Ferret that it was “not acceptable” that the council failed to meet its statutory duty and claimed the issue was raised “several times”.
However, the regulator also found that the local authority had made improvements to its services, which was welcomed by the minister. Since lockdown Glasgow City Council has found accommodation in “almost all instances” by using now-vacant hotels and B&Bs.
The SHR acknowledges that Glasgow City Council faces significant challenges in providing homeless accommodation. In 2019-20, the council took 6,054 homeless applications –16 per cent of the Scottish total.
However, the report notes: “Prior to the pandemic, as a result of a daily shortage of available suitable temporary accommodation, the council was, in effect, rationing temporary accommodation by prioritising the people it accommodated based on its assessment of risk and vulnerability.” This, it says, led to be people being wrongly turned away.
A SHR review of sample cases found single people were disproportionately affected – they accounted for 66 per cent of homeless applications but for 83 per cent of those not offered temporary accommodation.
Many, says the regulator, were vulnerable and had approached the council for help on multiple occasions. It also found evidence of them being “excluded” from B&Bs and hostels that were “not suitable for the individual’s needs in the first place”.
Charities have previously raised concerns about homeless people – sometimes struggling with mental health or addiction issues – being barred for failing to meet curfew or being noisy, or other “trivial” issues. Because many B&Bs and hotels housing homeless people are owned by the same companies it is claimed they can then be unable to find accommodation available on the council’s system.
The council said it prioritised families and pregnant women. But the SHR also reviewed 2,178 cases and found 202 households with children had been turned away. The council did not know where they would sleep that night in more than one in four cases. It told the SHR it would investigate the cases.
The SHR report acknowledged the council was putting into place measures to address its “weaknesses”, “although the pace of improvement had been slow” and that since the pandemic it had reported “almost full compliance with its statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation”.
GCC estimates it has reduced rough sleeping significantly. There were around 15-27 people sleeping rough on any one night in the city pre-pandemic, but this fell to five or six during lockdown, it claims.
However, the SHR raised concerns it could find itself in breach of new rules under the unsuitable accommodation order which means people should spend no longer than seven days in B&Bs.
Michael Cameron, the regulator’s chief executive, said: “The council has undertaken and continues to undertake a wide programme of improvement and transformation activity as part of its Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan. It has made some important improvements in its service.
But he added: “The council should address the weaknesses we identified in its approach to temporary accommodation to help it build on and sustain compliance with its statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation and prepare for the extension of the unsuitable accommodation order. It should ensure that it has an adequate level of suitable temporary accommodation which meets the diverse needs of people experiencing homelessness.”
Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said: “This report confirms the systemic failure of Glasgow City Council’s homelessness services, which has led to thousands of people being denied their legal rights.
“We took legal action last year because we’d had enough of the council routinely breaking the law and forcing people onto the streets. This inquiry wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the thousands of people who supported our action, in Glasgow and beyond.
“The test will be how Glasgow City Council responds positively to this unprecedented intervention.
“Our shared goal must be to ensure that everyone who presents to the council as homeless is provided with the safe and suitable accommodation they’re legally entitled to.”
A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman welcomed the report’s “recognition that improvements have been made to our homelessness service in spite of the challenges we face”.
She said: “During April and August 2020, the council received an average of 481 homeless applications per month. Despite Covid 19 lockdown restrictions, the team made almost 6000 offers of temporary accommodation and completed 1300 resettlement plans during that period – managing to maintain 95% of usual business.
“The service has improved in several areas, including preventing the cycle of repeat homelessness, however, our biggest challenge remains our access to temporary accommodation. This cannot be solved overnight. The council does not have its own housing stock, so we will continue to work with the city’s 68 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and City Building to bring quality temporary accommodation back into use as quickly as possible.”
The council remains committed to working with RSLs, with its new homeless “alliance” – a group of organisations now involved in contracting homeless services – and in its Housing First programme, she added. “We are pleased that this is an area the regulator has also highlighted improvements in,” she said.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said that the Scottish Government had been working closely with Glasgow City Council “for some time” on the issue of temporary accommodation.
He added: “I recognise that Glasgow has significant numbers of people requiring homelessness services, and while I am glad to see that Glasgow continues to make improvements in its service for people who are homeless, it is not acceptable that the council failed to meet its statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation – this was raised with them several times.”
The Scottish Government provided £1.5 million of funding to third sector organisations to help them provide accommodation for homeless people during the pandemic, he said, and wrote to all Registered Social Landlords in the city “encouraging them to maximise the numbers of homes being made available to homeless people”.
Stewart added: “The council has met its statutory obligation in almost all instances since April, showing that Glasgow has responded well to the extraordinary challenges caused by COVID-19 and I would urge the Council to build on the progress made during the pandemic and ensure that it has sufficient temporary accommodation to meet the needs of homeless people, ensuring they move into settled accommodation rapidly. We will continue to work closely with Glasgow as it continues its progress in this area.”