THIS is how we eliminate destitution in Scotland, experts say – as it is revealed that a new scheme to get around Westminster rules tying Holyrood’s hands could be in place before Christmas.

The move could provide a gateway to ending homelessness due to immigration status, it is claimed.

Scottish authorities are prohibited from giving a roof or other help to many people under rules that make up the so-called “hostile environment” to immigrants and asylum seekers.

It was Theresa May (below) who, as Home Secretary, first outlined that plan to make the UK inhospitable for those without the right paperwork. New policies prevented most people without permanent permission to stay in the UK from accessing income support, housing benefit and more. The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule also applies to asylum seekers whose cases are rejected – even before they’ve exhausted their appeal rights.

The National: Theresa May

It can take a decade or more to gain access to basic help – and if individuals are unable to earn or fall into crisis, they have to rely on charities to stay safe and fed.

And new post-Brexit changes mean EU nationals are also at risk.

Up to 500 people are thought to be affected in Scotland at any one time, according to work by Heriot-Watt University and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Now a Scottish Government and Cosla-backed coalition of third-sector agencies and academics has drawn up a blueprint revealing a legal way to circumvent the UK-wide restrictions.

Titled Fair Way Scotland, it was unveiled at a major homelessness conference this week and draws together expertise from 35 separate partners.

They say it can end “destitution by design” within five years and overcome the limitations placed on the Scottish Government by using charitable grants to fund a network of safe homes and support across the country through housing associations. Talks with a major funder have begun and, if successful, will unlock the cash needed to start work in December and house the first 45 people by June. The Scottish Government is also expected to contribute to some of the costs of the programme.

Eventually, 220 places are planned in the west, 150 in Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders, 70 in the north and the islands, 50 in Tayside, Fife and Central Scotland and 30 in Ayrshire and the South.

It’s hoped capacity would reach 500 by late 2026.

“If we view the problem through a human rights lens, we can see just how unacceptable the problem is,” the plan states. “If we view the problem through an evidence lens, we can see that it is a relatively small and solvable problem in Scotland.

“The problem is destitution-by-design, a deliberate set of conditions imposed on some people who want to make Scotland their home but are given no recourse to the resources and support they need to do that.

“A change to this UK policy could remedy the situation overnight. Indeed, the public health implications provided a temporary respite during the coronavirus pandemic, which has motivated a higher ambition and lower tolerance of this issue in Scotland.

“Until that policy change happens, if it ever does, we want to design-out homelessness and destitution in Scotland and deliver a fair way forward.”

The National: Margaret-Ann Brunjes.

Margaret-Ann Brunjes (above), chief executive of Homeless Network Scotland, told the Sunday National the plan could be rolled out across the UK and responds to a mood that’s been growing since emergency public health measures saw homeless groups, including those living under NRPF, taken into hotels due to Covid. “For the first time, local councils could legally respond to this group and they did,” she says. “We have a public sector in Scotland that wants to act but has been prohibited from doing so. What’s happening in Scotland is a genuine, real national response. That’s partly a result of the very live discussions around human rights. It’s an urgent example of where human rights are being breached in the most fundamental sense.

“You have people looking at this through all different lenses and parts of society and saying, ‘wait a second, this isn’t right’. The resolve has gotten so strong.”

Two housing associations in Glasgow – Queens Cross and Maryhill – have come on board so far.

Speaking at Homeless Network Scotland’s conference this week, Sabir Zazai, head of the Scottish Refugee Council, said it is “important for us to reflect on what is within our gift” to support people on the margins. Fair Way Scotland is “a workable concept”, calling for “swift investment”. “It’s a five-year plan,” he said. “We cannot wait too long for it to be implemented. It is important it is invested in as soon as possible.

“It is a brilliant partnership which is happening in a time of a perfect storm of a hardening hostile and the anti-refugee bill will potentially create more homelessness. With Covid and Brexit, we now need action and investment in Fair Way Scotland. Otherwise ending destitution and homelessness strategies will only be papers, not practice.

“We need to demonstrate a different, better and credible approach in Scotland for the UK to learn from and to follow.”