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Scottish Homelessness Statistics: Assembling the puzzle

This week the Scottish Government released the annual Homelessness Statistics.  In general, the statistics paint the same picture as last year with headline trends staying the same. The numbers of homeless applications and assessments as homeless continue to go down (4% and 2% respectively in the last year). Likewise the profile of households that make a homelessness application is fairly static: single males making up 45% of applications, most applications being from people between the ages of 20 and 34 and the biggest cause of homelessness is dispute within the household or being asked to leave.

But this week – for the very first time – we can see a bit more of the full picture of housing need in Scotland. Alongside the HL1 were released the Prevent1 figures for the past year.  [For the small but select group of us housing stats geeks in Scotland this is a Very Exciting Day.] Prevent1 is an additional new data set collected by Scottish local authorities about their delivery of housing options services.

Prevent1 shows that, in addition to the 35,764 homeless applications, 58,825 received housing options help.  Taking account of the overlap between the two services, in total, there were around 69,800 approaches to local authorities across Scotland last year from households in housing need. This demonstrates what Shelter Scotland has said several times: the number of people making a statutory homelessness application may be going down, but the underlying drivers of homelessness have not followed suit. As our frontline colleagues will testify, the number of people who find themselves with housing problems in Scotland remains a significant concern.

So what does this fuller picture given by Prevent1 look like?

  • A mixed picture: there is wide variation between the different authorities in the way housing options is used and the type of help people get
  • Most people who receive housing options don’t go on to make a homeless application (64%)
  • 56% of people who access housing options receive active information, sign-posting or explanation, with 44% receiving casework and only 230 people (less than 1%) receiving advocacy representation/ mediation at tribunal or court action level.

Before we get too enthusiastic about this new data, there are a few things to remember.

First, some of the puzzle pieces don’t fit very well. This is a new data set, and the variation in figures is likely to be – at least in part- due to not all authorities entering data in the same way. For example, in East Lothian 94% of those making a housing options approach are recorded as receiving ‘4+ prevention activities’, compared with 0% in Edinburgh. Also, the way that ‘outcomes’ are recorded in Prevent1 doesn’t tell the full story. For example, the outcome ‘remained in current accommodation’ isn’t necessarily a positive outcome for some clients and ‘made a homeless application’ isn’t really a housing outcome at all.

Second, some of the bits of the puzzle are missing altogether. The experiences of our frontline and support services tells us that for some people, especially the most vulnerable or chaotic, housing options services can be inaccessible, with processes that deter them from engaging. So these people in acute need are unlikely to be included in the picture we have. That’s not to mention the large cohort of ‘hidden homeless’ households who remain conspicuously absent from any official figures.

The policy team in Shelter Scotland will continue to work towards understanding the harsh reality of housing need for people in Scotland as fully as we can, so that we can work more effectively to improve it.