A grand plan
First Published 19 October 2016
Danny Philips reports on how a project in Glasgow has prevented more than 1,000 evictions and given tenants in trouble the confidence to get their lives back on track
The introduction of section 11 of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 in April this year placed a duty on landlords and lenders to notify the relevant local authority if they raise an action to evict tenants, or repossess a property.
It has come into effect six years after being passed by the Scottish Parliament, and the delay has exposed a number of weaknesses, including the loophole that the local authority is not legally obliged to take action even after it has been notified.
But a recent report, Prevention of Homelessness Partnership Evaluation, suggests that, despite its shortcomings, section 11 could benefit people in housing need by improving their confidence, mental health, relationships and well-being.
The pilot partnership included Govan Law Centre, Money Matters Govan and South West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership. They got the agreement of 18 social landlords to give them notice of all eviction cases in south-west Glasgow. Lenders also agreed to encourage potential homeless people to seek assistance.
A project co-ordinator received all the notices. He followed them up with appointments. No shows received a home visit. Clients were assessed, then quickly referred to the most relevant service -money and welfare rights, social workers or legal representation. So far, the partnership has prevented more than 1,000 evictions.
Clare was a housing association tenant with rent arrears, and was threatened with eviction. Her landlord notified the partnership about the action. She was referred to the law centre, which represented her in court, and her eviction was stopped.
Clare’s arrears had begun after problems at the start of her tenancy meant she hadn’t claimed housing benefit. She had developed a drug problem while living in a local authority hostel -and when she took over the tenancy she was ‘all over the place’ on methadone.
Both parents had walked out on her and her brother when she was 13. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother had left to start another family. Clare was brought up by her gran and felt lost when she died.
At 16 she started living with an older man and ended up in the hostel when he turned violent towards her.
She had a lot to sort out. Many clients interviewed for the report had similar stories. Relationships had suffered, they had become ill, had mental health issues, lost confidence and jobs. All reported depression, most were on anti-depressants, about half had suicidal thoughts, a few were receiving psychiatric treatment, and one ‘genuinely tried to kill himself’. They lost weight, felt sick, couldn’t sleep or eat properly, and were often in ‘a major panic’. One reported ‘shaking like a zombie’.
The project got them back on their feet and helped them sort their lives out. All felt improvements and many reported the service to be ‘life changing’.
One client reported that even though the project had not managed to save his home, the help he received had been ‘fantastic’. People who were approachable, listened sympathetically, did not judge, took him seriously and always kept their word calmed him down. All clients stressed the importance of having one named person who knew them.
Clients reported that almost immediately after coming into contact with the project they felt real improvements in their health, relationships and confidence. And this grew as they continued to receive support.
They were always very relieved when a debt repayment plan stopped an eviction. But the build up of trust was equally important in strengthening their ability to cope whether or not they got the outcome they wanted. They cut down on anti-depressants, took more control of their problems, felt healthier and could look to the future long before any solution to their housing or debt problem had been found.
Clare was referred on to social work addiction services, her benefits problems were sorted at the money advice centre, she received support from a mental health charity and was helped with an application to college. ‘At 28 I am ready to start my life properly,’ she said.
Homelessness remains a serious problem in Scotland 10 years after devolution. In 2014/08 more than 20,000 actions were raised by social landlords and more than 3,500 households lost their homes.
The social cost is high. The average homeless case costs the health service £7,000 and public services as a whole £24,000.
Section 11 can prevent immediate homelessness, and in doing so can also make a significant contribution to the public purse. But as Clare’s story shows, it can also bring social services into contact with vulnerable people and families who they may not otherwise know about. With commitment from government and local authorities we may be able to help more people turn their lives around.
Danny Phillips is former head of CPAG in Scotland and a former special adviser to the First Minister of Scotland. His report, Prevention of Homelessness Partnership Evaluation: section 11 Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003 Pilot Project, can be downloaded from www.shelterscotland.org.uk