HOMELESS people in Scotland's cities could have temporary tenancies "flipped" to give them more secure permanent accommodation after the Covid-19 outbreak.

In a letter to housing campaigners, seen by The Herald, the Scottish Government has said that an option available to local authorities to ease homeless pressures would be that "temporary accommodation could be flipped to permanent".

The letter indicates that this decision could only be made by local councils, who are currently dealing with unprecedented pressures and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Government’s homelessness and rough sleeping action group has previously touted being able to “promote and support the use of mechanisms that enable a tenancy to move from temporary to settled where this is the choice of the tenants”, known as flipping.

The action group also put forward “introducing regular and frequent review periods” for people living in temporary accommodation - which would open up “the opportunity to explore the potential for it to become a settled option”, such as “flipping a temporary furnished flat to full tenancy agreement”.

In Scotland's major cities, rough sleepers have been temporarily moved into hotel accommodation in order to give them safety where they can self isolate from Covid-19.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edinburgh Airbnb flats help solve homelessness crisis

In Edinburgh, all homeless families with children have now been temporarily moved from unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and placed in flats that have come available, including former Airbnb-style short term lets.

But concerns have been raised that this temporary solution cannot be scaled up to become a permanent solution once the pandemic is resolved - with private properties to return to their original purpose.

The Scottish Government has now pointed to a possible idea that could contribute to helping more families be placed in suitable and more permanent accommodation, post Covid-19.

READ MORE: Scotland has worst death rate for homeless in UK

In a letter to Sean Clerkin, campaign coordinator for the Scottish Tenants Organisation, the Scottish Government points to local authorities "flipping" tenancies into permanent arrangements, where appropriate.

It says: "Local authorities are dealing with Covid-19 emergencies ensuring they have accommodation available for anyone made homeless and rough sleeping during this pandemic." 

It adds: "Temporary accommodation could be flipped to permanent if available or appropriate, however this decision can only be made by the local authorities."

Mr Clerkin has welcomed the indication from the Scottish Government.

He said: "I am very pleased that the Scottish Government support flipping temporary accommodation to become permanent homes for the homeless throughout Scotland.

"This is the start of a genuine process to remove the scar of rough sleeping from the streets of Glasgow and throughout Scotland."

Shelter Scotland has followed calls from Crisis for a permanent solution to Scotland's homelessness problem, once the pandemic is over.

READ MORE: Coronvirus comment: it shouldn't take a pandemic to show we can end rough sleeping

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Shelter Scotland has been fighting for a number of years to ensure that anyone experiencing homelessness is given temporary accommodation.

“Our understanding is that additional social housing has been provided by local housing associations for use during the pandemic and together with the use of hotels and self-catering holiday homes rough sleeping is now rare.

“While this is welcome, a home is far more than just a roof over your head and our real goal is permanent solutions."

He added: “We now need to see plans put in place to ensure that at the end of the lockdown period we do not see large numbers of people evicted from their emergency accommodation and left to fend for themselves.

 “People should be supported into permanent homes and one option is to look at whether some temporary tenancies can be made permanent. This should be done on a case-by-case basis and taking the tenants needs into account.”

In January, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said that he was “not particularly happy” with the lack of progress made by both Edinburgh City Council and authorities in Glasgow in meeting legal duties around homelessness.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Cities ramp up support for homeless and rough sleepers

In Edinburgh, council bosses are faced with a lack of suitable housing.
Snapshot statistics from the Scottish Government revealed that the number of children in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh  has risen from 1,095 in 2018 to 1,260 last year.

Edinburgh City Council has occasionally flipped a property from temporary to permanent where appropriate to do so and will continue to use the method if suitable.

Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey said: “To prevent homelessness and to support people into long-term homes, we need more purpose-built affordable accommodation. We also need to keep a steady supply of temporary housing, for people who suddenly find themselves facing homelessness.

“We will always look to provide the right support and housing to meet people’s needs and will consider flipping temporary accommodation into a permanent home - although this is only possible where temporary accommodation is either council or housing association owned. We also have to be mindful of making sure that we are treating everyone fairly within the priority need system. 

"Flipping is something that we have done in the past in special circumstances and we’ll continue to consider it where it’s appropriate to do so."

Sarah Boyack, MSP for Lothians and Labour's shadow cabinet spokesperson for Local Government, said: "This is a welcome step in the right direction and can’t come soon enough.
“Edinburgh City Council and charities such as Streetwork, Shelter Scotland and Crisis, have worked hard to deal with homelessness during the pandemic, but there is still much work to be done.
“Now is the time to end homelessness. There are still too many families and children in temporary accommodation. If we are to see an end to this, local authorities must be given all the means and resources to help make ‘flipping’ from temporary to permanent accommodation a reality for the city’s homeless people.”