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01 December 2021

LSA Report on Temporary Accommodation Charges

A new report, “Charges for temporary homeless accommodation in Scotland – law and reality” has been published by the Legal Services Agency which examines the practice of charging for temporary homeless accommodation in Scotland, and whether local authorities are acting lawfully in this area.

Background

Individuals in Scotland who make a homelessness application to their local authority are supposed to be provided with temporary accommodation.

However, the provision of temporary accommodation is costly for local authorities. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 allows local authorities to make “reasonable” charges for temporary accommodation. The accompanying statutory Code of Guidance on Homelessness requires that individual circumstances must be taken into account when setting the charges.

The report explains that individual circumstances should be taken into account to ensure that any charges are affordable. The practice by local authorities of failing to consider individual circumstances may be unlawful.

Legal Services Agency submitted freedom of information requests to all local authorities in Scotland for information on their charging regimes.

Findings of the report

The report found that the charging practices vary across Scotland, resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’ for individuals.

Most local authorities do not currently take individual circumstances into account but do consider affordability when setting their charges.

The report found that the total debt owed by individuals to local authorities for these charges totalled upwards of £33.3 million.

The practical implications of the current system are that charges are unaffordable, leaving many people with high levels of personal debt, leading to considerable hardship for individuals who find themselves in this situation, as well as contributing to mental health issues.

Recommendations

The report recommends that in the short-term, local authorities should review and update their policies on charging for temporary accommodations to ensure that they are in line with the Code of Guidance on Homelessness and the human right to adequate housing. In circumstances where individuals may have been subject to unaffordable charges for temporary accommodation, housing advisers are advised to challenge such charges with legal action where necessary.

In the long-term, the report recommends that charges for temporary accommodation should be removed altogether.  Failing that, tighter regulation for temporary accommodation charges are recommended, with the addition of such mechanisms as affordability assessments to ensure that all charges are affordable.

Read the report here:
Charges for temporary homeless accommodation in Scotland – law and reality

Rebecca Morton, Volunteer and
Ben Christman, Solicitor

LSA

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