Housing the homeless must be a priority

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HOMELESSNESS persons legislation in Scotland means that by next year Scottish Borders Council, along with all other Scottish local authorities, will have to assess all homeless applications as a priority - this year they assessed 69 per cent as priorities.

Shelter Scotland is concerned that local authorities aren’t prepared to deliver the Scottish Government reforms that give every homeless person the right to a home from 2012, and cite East Lothian Council as one of three that are under-prepared, their homeless priority level averaging 63 per cent.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity said: “It is by no means too late for East Lothian Council to deliver on the 2012 homelessness commitment and prepare for the legislative change - but there is a lot of work to do if it is to happen.

“We know times are tough and local authorities are under increasing pressure, but meeting the 2012 commitment is not a choice, it’s a legislative requirement that cannot be shirked from.

“With just over a year to go until December 31, 2012, those councils who are failing to deliver need to take urgent action to meet their responsibilities to homeless people or Scottish Ministers should intervene to make it happen.

“We want everyone in Scotland to have the right to a home and the real chance of actually living in one.

“The challenge remains to ensure there are enough decent affordable houses in Scotland for people to live in. That’s why politicians must prioritise building more houses to end the wait for 3,634 households stuck on waiting lists across East Lothian.”

The situation, however, has improved across the country and in the past year house lets to homeless households averaged 45 per cent, up from 43 per cent the previous and a considerable improvement from the start of the 2000s when the figure was only 17 per cent.

Homeless statistics published this week show that in the past year 572 people in the Borders were registered as homeless and a further 348 households in the region were assessed as being at risk of homelessness, 155 of those in housing association property, 22 in private rented accommodation and a further 171 assessed by creditors as at risk.

Scottish Borders Council may have assessed only 69 per cent of homeless applications as a priority last year, and they also had 89 households in temporary accommodation (76 in the social sector and 13 in bed and breakfast) but they had no households in unsuitable accommodation.

The country’s fragile economy has not helped in the supply of new houses for families and in the last year new house building was down six per cent on the previous year at 16,224 completions in Scotland. And starting to build new homes fell by 11 per cent from 15,117 in 2009-10 to 13,456 in 2010-11 -most of the decrease in private sector building.

The new wave of local authority house building, however, which began in 2010 has continued with 1,383 starts in the year to June 2011 compared with 713 the previous year (a 94 per cent increase) and fewer local authority homes were bought under the Right to Buy Scheme - by 10 per cent

In 2010-11 there were 7,231 units completed through the Affordable Housing Investment Programme (AHIP) – down 11 per cent.