Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Homelessness..Borders bucks the trend

While Scotland as a whole recorded an eight per cent reduction in applications under homeless legislation in 2013/14, the numbers seeking assistance in the Scottish Borders increased for the second year in a row, and now exceed 1996/97 levels.

When last year's statistics on homelessness were published by the Scottish Government they showed a massive 17 per cent hike in Borders application from 542 in 2011/12 to 638. At the same time the national numbers tumbled by 13 per cent.

But when the Border Telegraph reported the local figures on 12 August 2013, the Galashiels-based weekly paper was told by Scottish Borders Council: "the statistics indicated a much higher homelessness rate than is actually the reality". Apparently, the council had changed its approach with the introduction of a dedicated prevention team in 2011, and there had also been alterations to the authority's IT system in terms of how statistics were "drawn down".

There were also claims from social housing landlords that they were working in partnership with the council to increase the supply of affordable housing and reduce homelessness.

So it will be interesting to hear the explanation for this year's six per cent increase in applications from 638 to 673. The equivalent number for 1996/97 was 639.

In 24 of Scotland's 32 council areas the number of applications fell, and the increase in the Borders figure was the fourth highest in the country.

The number of assessments made by the council's homelessness service also increased rapidly from 402 in 2011/12 to 496 in 2012/13 and up again to 560 in 2013/14. These percentage increases in assessments were 23% and 13% respectively while Scotland's total of assessments went down from 35,708 to 29,326 in the same period.

Meanwhile the number of Borders households living in temporary accommodation also increased slightly from 89 in March 2013 to 94 in March of this year.

The housing charity Shelter Scotland warns there are growing signs of affordable housing shortages in the Scottish Borders area.There were 11,843 social rented sector homes in the region in 2012/13. But Shelter adds: "Right to Buy resulted in the loss of 1,055 affordable homes in the ten years from 2003 to 2013. Scottish Borders needs more affordable homes". Shelter also points out that 31,000 properties in the area fail the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.

Councillors surrendered their control of rented housing in 2003 when 6,700 homes with a book value of £56 million were transferred to a housing association for £23 million.

Five years later a report from the Scottish Council for Single Homeless described homelessness services as an afterthought in council areas where housing stock was being transferred.

Researchers scrutinised four councils following stock transfers: Argyll & Bute, Scottish Borders, Glasgow and Inverclyde. With the exception of Argyll & Bute, they found councils gave little attention to how homelessness would be managed after transfer.

The report concluded: "In most cases, the situation for homeless people appears worse [after stock transfer]..due to a combination of poor planning for homelessness services after transfer, alongside the reduction in the importance placed on housing and homelessness services within local authorities".

Things may have improved on that front since 2008 when the report was published. But the latest statistics would suggest the Borders still faces a major problem in dealing with homelessness.

The recent proposal by the council to borrow money in a bid to build 200 affordable homes may help the situation if the houses can be delivered. Maybe they should have held on to their housing powers and the ownership of the properties they sold when stock transfers were being touted as 'the only game in town' by the Lib/Lab Scottish government of the day.

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