City admits it may struggle to find homes for all in 2012

Council chiefs must respond to 2003 homelessness law
Council chiefs must respond to 2003 homelessness law
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CITY council chiefs have admitted Edinburgh may not meet the Scottish Government requirement of providing all homeless people with a home by the end of next year.

Cathy King, the council’s head of housing and regeneration said the new target meant finding places for around 850 extra people a year, on top of the 3500 the council already deals with, at a time when appropriate affordable accommodation was in short supply.

She said: “It’s going to be hugely difficult for us. The biggest sector is the private rented sector, but there is an issue about the willingness of landlords to accept people who are dependent on benefits.

“We are exploring a range of things to try to access that sector. We are also looking at our own accommodation to see what we can do there. But that’s difficult too.”

In 2003, the Scottish Parliament passed groundbreaking legislation stating that local authorities would have a duty to provide every unintentionally homeless person with a home by the end of 2012.

At the moment, councils are obliged to find accommodation only for people in “priority need” – normally those with dependent children, a specific vulnerability or a health problem.

People who fall outside the priority category, mostly single people with no dependents, have no right to permanent accommodation. But the new requirement obliges councils to provide the same level of service to all homeless people.

It is not clear what penalty, if any, councils will incur for failing to meet the target.

But Ms King said: “Reputation is the biggest penalty. Edinburgh has prided itself on our homelessness service. To fail on this target would be extremely difficult for us.”

Latest figures show that in 2010-11, 3748 people in Edinburgh were assessed as priority homeless out of a total of 4531.

Housing convener Paul Edie said: “We’re going to do our level best to meet this target, but it was always going to be challenging. The big problem we have is a chronic shortage of affordable housing.” He said the Capital’s booming economy meant a growing demand for housing, but the Scottish Government’s funding formula still gave a disproportionate share of the cash to Glasgow rather than Edinburgh.

Graeme Brown, director of housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, said: “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.

“While some councils have already achieved the target of assessing every homeless person as a priority case, others have more to do, and Edinburgh is one of those councils.

“This target was put in place ten years ago and for some local authorities has been the catalyst for changing and improving their homelessness services.

“The figures show that Edinburgh City Council has not maintained its early progress towards meeting the 2012 homelessness commitment and needs to catch up.

“The council now needs to inject some urgency into its preparations so that they are ready and able to meet their new responsibilities.”