Govan Law Centre (GLC) is concerned that some social landlords in Scotland have now introduced major financial barriers which are stopping homeless people from accessing their statutory rights to permanent accommodation. See the Evening Times article on this issue here.
For example, it is now common place in Glasgow for a homeless person - legally entitled to an offer of a permanent tenancy from a housing association - to be told he or she will only be granted a lease by the association if they pay the first month's rent 'up-front'. This is an insurmountable barrier for many homeless people, who are either in receipt of benefits or low wages - both of which are paid in arrears - and trying to cope with the mental and physical stress and anguish of homelessness.
GLC believes that this change in policy by some registered social landlords has and will undermine the Scottish Government and COSLA's progressive strategies to prevent homelessness in Scotland. The policy change also demonstrates a failure by some housing associations to properly consider the needs of vulnerable people.
GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Senior Manager, Alasdair Sharp, said: "While it is standard practice in the private rented sector for one month's rent to be required in advance; Scottish housing associations receive significant public subsidy, enjoy charitable status and numerous statutory powers".
"The reason for is, is because the Scottish Government and Parliament recognises the fundamental need for social housing in Scotland - and that fact it has a different role to play than the private sector. Social landlords enjoy a privileged position to ensure that the most vulnerable and less advantaged in our society are treated justly and fairly. GLC believes that demanding advance rent from homeless households is at odds with the ethos and role of social landlords. More worryingly, it undermines prevention of homelessness and financial inclusion strategies in Scotland".
GLC believes the Scottish Government should give consideration to using its delegated powers to issue statutory guidance (under section 5(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) to clarify that it is not acceptable to require an advance payment of rent as a condition of a person being accommodated as a homeless person; as well as putting the issue beyond any doubt by inserting an appropriate ancillary clause in the forthcoming Housing (Scotland) Bill to amend the 2001 Act accordingly.