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When the Scottish Parliament passed Scotland's Housing Bill at Holyrood on Wednesday, 3 November, it signalled a victory for homeless people and those at risk of losing their homes.
Under new legislation, local councils will have to provide better access to support for families and individuals who are at risk of homelessness.
The reforms included in the new bill:
• Make specific reference to safeguarding and promoting the interests of homeless people
• Strengthen the role of tenants, homeless people and other service users by imposing new duty of care regulations on housing providers
• Safeguard social housing for future generations by reforming the right to buy
• Ensure that tenants and taxpayers get better value from social housing by modernising how it is regulated
• Give ex-servicemen and woman a fairer deal by allowing them to establish a “local connection" in the way that others can
• Improve the regulation of private sector landlords and the arrangements for tackling disrepair.
These new measures have been welcomed by homelessness organisations, especially at a time when government cuts threaten to increase debt, repossession and evictions.
Shelter Scotland, a leading housing and homelessness charity, has welcomed the new legislation, as it promises to give the vulnerably housed a much greater chance of protecting their tenancies. On the day the bill was passed, the charity tweeted: "A victory today for homeless people in Scotland. We're delighted!" The charity's director, Graeme Brown hailed the passing of the Housing Bill as "a fantastic result", not only for the homeless, but also for "those facing homelessness in Scotland".
On behalf of Shelter, Mr Brown said: "We congratulate the Scottish Parliament for its courage and strength in seeing this Bill through. The result will bring positive social and financial benefits through a significant reduction in repeat homelessness. We view this as progressive legislation which proves that Scotland has a pioneering approach to dealing with housing and homelessness issues."
At one stage, the passing of the proposal, which insists councils strengthen their support of the homeless, looked likely to be blocked by a counter-amendment issued by Dunfermline MSP Jim Tolson of the Liberal Democrats. However, following protests on the streets of Dunfermline and after a coalition of charities wrote to Housing Minister Alex Neil, beseeching the government not to back the amendment, the Lib Dem MSP withdrew his objections, allowing the measure to be passed.
However, Scottish councils share the MEP's concerns about meeting the costs of the Access to Support policy. Councils have argued that the measure will cost £40 million a year, though Shelter Scotland calculates the overheads to be only a fraction of that.
There is also concern among local authorities that the measure could be counterproductive by causing homelessness in Scotland to rocket. A Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) spokesman said: "It will impose a perverse incentive for households to fast-track to homelessness in order to access scarce services."
The Housing Bill has also legalised the end of the Right-to-Buy scheme. The reform of Right-to-Buy will prevent new social homes being sold. Mr Brown welcomed the measure as "an overdue provision which helps secure Scotland's housing stock in the future."