Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Hike in homeless across southern Scotland


The number of applications to services for the homeless across Scottish Borders, East Lothian and Dumfries & Galloway rose sharply in 2016/17 at a time when appeals for help nationally fell by two per cent.

The statistics, published by the Scottish Government this week, reveal a 23% spike in applications to Dumfries & Galloway Council (up from 668 to 820), a 12% rise in East Lothian (681 to 766) and a 10% increase in Scottish Borders (623 to 686). The Borders figure was the highest recorded since 2011/12.

Meanwhile the number of households living in temporary accommodation in the Borders rose from 82 to 87, far above the 2002 figure of 35 households. At the same time the number of children living in temporary accommodation went up from 38 to 41.

The temporary accommodation statistics for Dumfries & Galloway showed a significant improvement, down from 240 households to 199 with 73 children included in the latest figures compared to 76 in 2015/16.

However, in East Lothian households in temporary accommodation increased from 410 to 440, with the number of children involved up from 184 to 251.

In February, in answer to a Freedom of Information request, Scottish Borders Council confirmed it was renting 85 properties from Registered Social Landlords (RSL) and 49 from Private Sector Landlords (PSL) in meeting its statutory homeless duty.

Total rents paid to RSLs in 2015/16 was £310,000, and to PSLs £253,170. The equivalent figures for 2016/17 are  £316,934 and £233,264.

A research report by Shelter Scotland into evictions by social landlords in Scotland between 2012-2016 revealed a 13% increase in evictions by Scottish Borders Housing Association, the main landlord in the region following a whole stock transfer of council housing in 2003.

In 2015/16 SBHA instituted 535 proceedings against tenants, 68 were taken to court, decree was granted in 44 cases and 17 evictions occurred.

East Lothian's eviction rate increased by 162.5% between 2013/14 and 2015/16 from eight to 21. At the same time RSL Dumfries & Galloway Housing Partnership completed 33 evictions, a 2.9% reduction from 2013/14. There were 925 notices of proceedings, 297 tenants were taken to court and decree was granted in 58 instances.

The Shelter Scotland report concludes: "From the evidence and analysis, it is apparent that landlords, especially local authority landlords, are increasingly making use of eviction actions in response to rent arrears. In the years leading up to 2013/14, there was a decrease in the use of eviction action. However, since then the number of evictions has risen.

"Between 2007/08 and 2013/14, evictions fell by 52 per cent, while over the course of 2013/14 to 2015/16 evictions have increased by almost 25 per cent. Shelter Scotland is concerned that this upward trend will continue unless clear changes to policy and practice are made.

"With the significant changes to the backdating of housing benefit and the introduction of the benefit cap in 2016, it has become even more important for the rest of the social rented sector to learn from their examples. Social sector landlords should seek to actively engage with their tenants and try to prevent rent arrears as much as possible by providing help and advice when needed.

"The increasing uncertainty regarding the UK economy following Brexit is likely to further impact social sector tenants. It is therefore vital that the policies and practices of social sector landlords reflect the challenges that their tenants face and adequately address them in a way that reduces rent arrears and, ultimately, helps tenants to stay in their homes."

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