Stick men in conversation around a table.

Response to Consultation on the Housing (Scotland) Bill

May 2024 

Established by the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, the Commissioner is responsible for promoting and safeguarding the rights of all children and young people in Scotland, giving particular attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Commissioner has powers to review law, policy and practice and to take action to promote and protect rights. The Commissioner is fully independent of the Scottish Government. 

General

Q1. To what extent do you agree that the measures in the Bill meet the Scottish Government’s stated policy objectives?

Agree

Q2. What are your main reasons for your views on Q1? (please note we have asked more detailed questions on the Bill below)

One in four children in Scotland live in poverty and around 10,000 children are in temporary accommodation. This is unacceptable. Homelessness, including time spent in unsuitable temporary accommodation has wide-ranging impacts on children’s mental and physical health, affecting their future prospects. Our 2023 report “Sometimes I Feel Like I am in Prison”[1] sets out the impact on children and young people’s rights of spending months or years of their childhood in temporary accommodation; including the impacts on health, development, relationships and education. The trauma of experiencing homelessness can have lasting impact. Children who experienced homelessness are more likely to experience homelessness as an adult.[2]

Better services are needed to prevent families from homelessness and rapid rehousing into long term homes.

This bill aims to improve housing outcomes for people in Scotland in the private rented sector, those who face homelessness and women and children experiencing domestic abuse. We support the policy intentions of the bill. The measures in this bill will go some way to alleviating child poverty and homelessness but these measures need to be properly implemented and part of a wider package of reforms around housing.

Housing insecurity is just one aspect of child poverty and children experience homelessness as part of their wider family context.

International human rights law recognises everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. This includes security of tenure, accessibility and protection against threats to health. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in their General Comment No. 4: the Right to Adequate Housing defines the concept of adequate housing as including:

  • Legal security of tenure
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  • Affordability
  • Habitability
  • Accessibility
  • Location
  • Cultural adequacy

Children have a right to adequate housing under Article 27(3) of the UNCRC which states:

States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

Children’s right to housing must also be understood in the context of the full range of rights contained within the UNCRC, but the following are particularly relevant:

  • Article 9 – the right not to be separated from parents. This would include where a hospital stay has to be extended due to unsuitable housing.
  • Article 15 – the right to freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. This includes the right to form and maintain friendships.
  • Article 20 – the rights of care experienced children
  • Article 24 – the right to the highest attainable standard of health
  • Article 26 – the right to benefit from social security
  • Articles 28 and 29 – the right to an education
  • Article 31 – the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and leisure activities

The Scottish Government has a duty, under the UNCRC, to ensure that children have a safe, secure and affordable place to live. States require to make maximum use of available resources to progressively realise the economic, cultural and social rights contained with the UNCRC, however in the context of Scotland, an advanced economy, the expectation should be that the minimum obligations contained in these rights can be readily achieved.

The Scottish Government should give careful consideration as to whether this Bill can bring local authority duties on housing and homelessness – for example those set out in Parts 1 and 2 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 – within the scope of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024. We would be happy to discuss this further with the Bill Team but one option to consider is amending the 1987 Act to require local authorities to act compatibly with the 2024 Act and the UNCRC.

Shelter have urged that the priority for the Scottish Government should be to address the ‘underlying issues within our housing system’[3]. They warn that;

‘There is a clear risk that the government imposing new duties on public bodies within an already broken and biased system, will only worsen the existing problems we see and hear about in our work every day. One of the pressing issues is the consistent failure of some councils to fulfil their legal obligations to homeless individuals.’

Local Authorities already have a duty to provide alternative housing for homeless families, but are failing to be able to deliver on this. At least 4 local authorities have declared housing emergencies, with the government itself declaring one nationally[4]. Councils are repeatedly violating their legal duties towards homeless children. Adequate investment in local services is required to combat this along with a clear need for more social housing.

Rent

Q3. Do you support the proposals in Part 1 of the Bill allowing rent control areas to be designated?

Yes

Q4. Do you have any further comments to make on Part 1 of the Bill dealing with rent for private tenants?

We support the introduction of rent control areas.

More than 1 in 3 children in poverty live in privately rented accommodation,[5]  and are disproportionately affected by rent increases.  During the cost-of-living crisis families are struggling with their bills, increasing relative poverty (after housing costs) and the risk of homelessness. Rent controls were put in place during the pandemic and an effective protective measure. Since these were lifted, there has been an increase in rents of private tenancies especially in Edinburgh.

Rent controls if properly implemented can play part of an overall solution to alleviate child poverty, but must be meaningful and work in practice. To stabilise housing costs, a permanent system of rent controls is required.  Transparency regarding rents is useful – tying the rent to the property and not the tenancy – which would help prevent landlords removing tenants to increase the rent. 

The current proposals are restricted to declared rent control areas set by the local authority and it is not clear whether individuals or tenants’ groups would be able to raise their own proposals. We note that the majority of tenants indicated rent protection should be in place in all areas.[6] It is unclear how Local Authorities will gather the data they need to assess rent levels.[7] There is also no mechanism in the bill to push down the already unaffordable private rents that are in existence and putting pressure on families.

We note some key decisions have yet to be made regarding implementation and how the controls will work in practice. As has been pointed out by the Living Wage Campaign group;

‘The way the proposals are set out means that many crucial aspects will be determined through regulations set out by Ministers rather than on the face of the bill itself. We still don’t know the degree to which rent increases will be restricted, the thresholds that must be met before rent controls are implemented, and a host of other significant details.’[8]

The process to challenge excess rent increases is complex and confusing, it requires tenants to know their rights and advocate on their own behalf. This could disadvantage tenants who already face additional barriers to realising their rights, for example those who speak English as an additional language or people with learning or communication disabilities. It is not yet clear what enforcement powers will be available to Local Authorities – there is a risk if there are limited or no fines for breach, rent controls will be ineffectual.

The most recent Scottish Government budget cut funding for new-build social housing for the second year in a row.[9] There is an urgent need for more social housing to be available to combat the housing crisis. In particular, there is a need for additional new social housing suitable for families that include a disabled child or adult and larger families. These groups are disproportionately likely to spend extended time in temporary housing due to a lack of suitable permanent housing.

Without funding for more homes, the ‘consequences of the housing emergency can’t be legislated away[10]’. Again, this cannot be seen as the whole answer to the housing crisis.

Keeping pets and making changes to let property

Q6. Do you support the proposals in Part 3 of the Bill to strengthen the rights of tenants to keep pets and make changes to let property?

Yes

Q7. Do you have any further comments to make on Part 3 of the Bill dealing with keeping pets and making changes to let property?

We are very supportive of these changes to allow tenants to keep pets and make changes to the let property, for a child or young person these are ways of creating a real home environment. Giving these rights to private rented tenants will improve their rights in line with those in social housing.

The importance of pets and the positive influence they can have on the development and wellbeing of a child is well documented. A recent study focused on the important role that having a pet can play in providing support, companionship and affection for a child and helping them develop positive relationships[11].  Pets can be highly beneficial for reducing anxiety and have a positive effect on mental health[12].

The proposal states that the right to keep a pet cannot be ‘unreasonably refused’ but it is not clear what would be considered ‘reasonable’. More detail is required to ensure consistency.

Giving tenants the rights to decorate their own properties is important to children and young people, yet at present some private landlords do not even allow tenants to put pictures on the wall. They will have more agency in what they do with their own space. It can be an important thing for a child to have their room painted the colour they want. Changes to property décor can also be supportive of children with neurodivergence – for example the paint colour of a room can be important to a child with autism.

‘After my diagnosis, I learned that research has actually demonstrated that autistic people really do better with certain paint colours, and the shades.[13]

Homelessness prevention and domestic abuse

Q9: Overall, do you support the Bill’s proposals in Part 5 of the Bill that
deal with homelessness prevention?

yes

Q10: What are your views on the ‘ask and act duty’ for relevant bodies in relation to preventing homelessness in Part 5 of the Bill?

We support these proposals but have the same concerns about the need for adequate implementation and resourcing.

Q11. What are your views on the requirement on councils to act sooner to prevent homelessness by taking reasonable steps in Part 5 of the Bill?

The proposals in this part of the bill are very important and have the potential, if properly implemented, to prevent homelessness.

In 2022/23, there were16,263 children in households who were considered homeless or at risk of homelessness. This is the equivalent to 45 children in Scotland becoming homeless every day.[14]

We welcome proposals which prevent homelessness, including a duty to provide assistance six months before someone is likely to lose their home, and requirements for a range of public bodies to support people when their housing is at risk.

Whilst we are strongly supportive of the move towards a preventative approach to homelessness, the reasons why people end up homeless or at risk of this are complex and proper investment into this preventive approach is vital. We continue to hear of cases where families are made homeless by eviction from social housing, including local authority housing, only to be transferred into temporary accommodation which the council pays for. This should not be happening.

People facing homelessness should have choice in where they live. A huge amount of disruption can be caused when children have to move school and away from support networks or friends.

Particular focus should be given to 16 and 17 year olds and care experienced young people at risk of homelessness. Those who live alone and not part of a family group often have complex needs and are particularly vulnerable. There must be access to bespoke support and tailored temporary accommodation options which are fit for young people and don’t expose them to harms. They should never be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation. They should be provided with practical support on matters like finances, access to mental health support and family mediation. A good example of such wrap around care is provided by Rock Trust[15].

Domestic abuse

Q12. What are your views on the provisions in Part 5 of the Bill that relate to domestic abuse?

We support these provisions and the overall policy aim of Part 5, but there is a need for stronger provisions to provide housing to women and children leaving abusive relationships.

This section seeks to protect the rights of women and children experiencing domestic abuse, particularly financial abuse, and living in social housing, to remain in their home or be re-housed if that is their wish. These provisions ensure arrears accrued because of domestic abuse are not a barrier to accessing social housing in the future. This is welcome, but in terms of combatting the housing issues experienced by women and children experiencing domestic abuse will only address a small subsection of this group.

Domestic abuse remains the main cause of women’s homelessness in Scotland[16] and there is a clear link between access to housing and equality.[17] Homelessness caused by domestic abuse further drives inequality of women in society as a whole and directly impacts on the lives of children they care for. In 2016, our office worked with children supported by Scottish Women’s Aid on a project called Power up/ Power down[18], in which they highlighted the impact leaving the family home had on them.

Domestic abuse undermines the rights of children, and those rights are further undermined when homeless policy and service responses do not protect them from homelessness. It can be extremely difficult for a woman experiencing domestic abuse to leave, this is further complicated when children are involved. A fear of homelessness can be a real barrier to leaving an abusive relationship. There is a need for guaranteed places for women and children in these situations.

We agree with the recommendations of Women’s Aid Scotland;

A Housing First pathway should be developed within Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans for women experiencing domestic abuse. This should be in collaboration with Violence Against Women and Girls partnerships and specialist support services such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. It should integrate the principles of Equally Safe and the Safe & Together Mode.[19]

We welcome the requirement of social landlords to develop a domestic abuse policy and changes to definition of domestic abuse. We think that this should come alongside training and resources for those working with these cases. This is a complex area which needs a thorough understanding of domestic abuse, including coercive control, if it is to be implemented successfully.

It is essential that women who have experienced domestic abuse understand their rights and have access to appropriate advocacy, legal advice and representation to assert their rights. The Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Scottish Women’s Aid provide these services but we are aware that more capacity is needed, particularly for legal advice. 

Mobile Homes

Q13. What are your views on the provisions in the Part 5 of the Bill relating to mobile homes pitch fees uprating?

These provisions have the potential to affect gypsy and traveller children and young people. These communities experience already high levels of poverty and inequality[20] and should be provided with more support and better understanding of their needs.

The 2012 Ministerial Working Group report on inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers (MWG) noted that these communities ‘experience, and are being held back by, some of the worst outcomes of any group, across a wide range of social indicators.’ This includes: low educational attainment; poorer health outcomes; high levels of homelessness; employment disadvantage; marginalization and experiences of hostility and discrimination.[21]


[1] https://www.cypcs.org.uk/wpcypcs/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Children-Young-Peoples-Commissioner-Scotland_Hotel-Accommodation-Report_November-2023.pdf

[2] The association between experiencing homelessness in childhood or youth and adult housing stability in Housing First | BMC Psychiatry | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)

[3] Rent controls and the housing emergency – Shelter Scotland Blog

[4] Scottish government to declare national housing emergency – BBC News

[5] Benefit Cap Forcing Families to Live on £44/week – new research | CPAG

[6] Policy Memorandum accessible (parliament.scot)

[7] The Scottish government finally published the Housing Bill! Here are our thoughts. – Living Rent

[8] Rent controls and the housing emergency – Shelter Scotland Blog

[9] Affordable homes – Scottish Government budget and progress – SPICe Spotlight | Solas air SPICe (spice-spotlight.scot)

[10] The Scottish government finally published the Housing Bill! Here are our thoughts. – Living Rent

[11] Pets and changing homes: the views of care experienced children/young people | The University of Edinburgh

[12] New Battersea Research Finds Third of Owners Say Pets Improve Mental Health As Poll Reveals Average UK Person Watches 17 Minutes of Online Animal Content Each Day | Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

[13] Autism-friendly home design | Embrace Autism (embrace-autism.com)

[14] Homelessness in Scotland – Shelter Scotland

[15] Housing First for Youth expansion – Rock Trust

[16] Improving-Housing-Outcomes-for-Women-and-Children-Experiencing-Domestic-Abuse-Report.pdf (womensaid.scot)

[17] https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/210

[18] Power Up / Power Down | Scottish Women’s Aid (womensaid.scot)

[19] Improving-Housing-Outcomes-for-Women-and-Children-Experiencing-Domestic-Abuse-Report.pdf (womensaid.scot)

[20] improving-lives-scotlands-gypsy-travellers-2019-2021.pdf (scotphn.net)

[21] Child-Poverty-in-GRT-Communities-2014.pdf (travellermovement.org.uk)


pdf Download

Size: 238.44 KB

Download Housing Bill Consultation pdf
Back to top