Homelessness in Scotland: Extending the unsuitable accommodation order

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Extending the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order) 2004

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was set up in 2017 to advise the Scottish Government on how to end rough sleeping, transform the use of temporary accommodation and end homelessness. It recommended, among other things, that the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004 should be extended to all homeless households.

This blog examines the impact of this recommendation, due to be implemented by May 2021.

In May this year, the Scottish Government consulted on two specific commitments:

  • To introduce a legally enforceable temporary accommodation standards framework to ensure consistently high standards are applied throughout Temporary Accommodation.
  • To extend the provisions of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2004 (the 2004 Order) to everyone to ensure that no homeless person spends more than 7 days in B+B or any other ‘unsuitable accommodation’.

On 03 September 2019, Kevin Stewart MSP, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, advised the Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee:

… initial analysis shows there is overwhelming support for the extension of the Order, with 97% of respondents agreeing that the order should be extended… (including local authorities).

… we have announced in the Programme for Government that we will legislate to extend the Unsuitable Accommodation Order this parliamentary year and that it will come into force in this parliamentary [Session], by May 2021.

The Scottish Government’s 2019-20 Programme for Government, announced on the same date, undertook to:

…introduce legislation in the coming year to extend the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, with a view to it coming into force by the end of this Parliament.

What will change?

At the moment, only families and pregnant women have restrictions on the time they spend in unsuitable accommodation. The 2004 Order was amended in 2014, to restrict the time they spent in unsuitable accommodation to 14 days.  This was further revised in 2017 to reduce this period to 7 days.

The change will ensure that no homeless person will spend more than 7 days in B+B or other unsuitable accommodation.

Current B+B use in Scotland for homeless people

The average time spent in temporary accommodation in 2018-19 was 180 days. Households accessing B+B’s comprised 10% of the total number accessing Temporary Accommodation. Of these, 45% spent a week or less there.

The average length of stay in B&B accommodation is less than 25 days for most local authorities who used this type of provision, although four showed average stays of over 60 days. There were 620 breaches of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order, meaning 620 occasions when families or pregnant women stayed longer in B+B accommodation than 7 days.

What does this change mean for Homeless People?

Single homeless people, in particular, will have quicker access to more appropriate temporary accommodation. The Scottish Government highlighted that 49% of homeless applicants cited one or more support needs when they made a homeless application in 2018/19. B+B accommodation often has little support and individuals share with others who may have complex needs themselves, which can exacerbate their own support needs.

Reducing the time people spend in unsuitable accommodation means prompt access to support and longer-term housing options. One such option is Housing First, which offers permanent, affordable housing and support for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. This is being developed by local authorities to work with people with multiple and complex needs. Access to supported accommodation tailored to specific needs may also be more quickly provided.

Practical implementation of the change

These changes to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order will create additional demand for all temporary accommodation and secure social housing options, particularly from single people. The Scottish Government say that 69% of all households moving in and out of temporary accommodation are single people. In 2018-19, 25% of temporary accommodation used across Scotland was B+B accommodation and 25% of households placed there were single person households.

There is an assumption that single people are more likely move from B+B accommodation to supported hostel accommodation. There were 4,870 single people in hostel accommodation in 2018-19.This comprises 89% of the hostel population. In 2018-19, 385 fewer single people moved out of hostel accommodation than entered it. Possible reasons for this include new arrivals moving in at the end of the year and people staying longer due to their support needs.

Hostel residents may be moved on more quickly and before they are ready for independent tenancies because of the increased demand for spaces and pressure to move clients out of B+B accommodation quickly. This may result in less sustainable tenancies in the longer term and more reliance on tenancy support services.

The Scottish Government note that families spend longer in temporary accommodation than any other household type. This suggests that finding secure accommodation for these households is more difficult. Single people and couples stay in temporary accommodation for the shortest time. This may change due to the increased numbers of single people accessing temporary accommodation.

Local authorities will need to revisit their Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTPs) to assess how this new legislative change can be incorporated into Local Housing Strategies and plans. Most RRTPs predicted the demand for additional accommodation for homeless people on the basis of the legislation in place at the time of development and predicted cost implications accordingly.

Several legislative changes intimated by the Scottish Government will impact on these predictions. Changes to the assessment of intentional homelessness, from November 2019, will have a minimal effect on accommodation provision, due to most intentionally homeless households accessing temporary accommodation already. However, the change to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order has the potential to make a big difference.

The Scottish Government provides grant subsidies for new permanent housing. There are no such subsidies for developing new temporary accommodation provision. This may restrict the monies currently available to provide additional services for homeless clients and to respond to this legislative change.


The proposed change to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order should be beneficial for homeless people. It provides equality of access to temporary accommodation options for everyone and increased access to long term accommodation options and supported housing provision. This should promote sustainable accommodation options and more positive outcomes for homeless clients.

However, it provides challenges for those implementing it around provision of additional temporary accommodation options. Resourcing these options and ensuring that, by May 2021, no homeless person spends more than 7 days in unsuitable accommodation is going to challenge housing budgets, especially in high demand areas. It is likely that additional financial resources may be required if this legislation is to be fully implemented.

Alex Marks, Senior Researcher, Housing