One of the central promises in the Scottish Government’s legislative programme was investment in affordable housing.

Investment of over £3bn will be spent on “delivering 50,000 affordable homes”, according to the Programme for Government announced on 5 September.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

Before the announcement Dr John Boyle, director of research and strategy for letting agents Rettie and Co, was interviewed on the BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

In the interview on 31 August he made a claim about the number of people currently waiting for affordable homes in Scotland.

The current waiting list for council and housing association housing across Scotland is 200,000. At current levels [of house-building] it’s about a 20 year waiting list. Dr John Boyle, Rettie and Co

Ferret Fact Service assessed this claim and found it to be Half True.

Evidence

Statistics on how many people are waiting for council and housing association homes are produced in the Scottish Government’s Housing Statistics for Scotland report. They are submitted by local authorities across Scotland.

The figures are separated by those on the housing register waiting list, and those on the transfer list. For the year ending March 31 2017, there were 137,100 on housing waiting lists and 25,100 on the awaiting transfer, making a total of 162,152.

However, there is inconsistency between local authorities on how to classify those on the waiting lists, with 8 out of the 26 with housing stock not operating separate waiting and transfer lists. This means the Scottish Government data likely overstates the figure for the waiting list and underestimates the number of those transferring.

The claim from Dr John Boyle is that there are 200,000 waiting for affordable council or housing association homes. This figure uses the previous financial year’s figure of 143,100 on the waiting list.

A number of local authorities do not report figure for waiting lists, as their council stock has been transferred to housing associations. The six councils without available figures include Scotland’s most populous local authority area, Glasgow, as well as Argyll & Bute, Dumfries & Galloway, Eilean Siar, Inverclyde, and Scottish Borders.

Dr Boyle’s claim includes estimates of the number of people waiting in these areas, which were released by Scottish Labour in August 2017. Using statistics from the 2015/16 Scottish Housing Register report, the party described a “conservative estimate” of the total number on waiting lists in these areas was 45,237. Combined with the figure on the Scottish housing lists, this makes 188,337. This has been rounded up to 200,000 due to the 45,237 figure being described as “conservative”.

In order to produce these figures, the party took the waiting list figures from the largest housing association in each of the areas where stock had been transferred. These are Glasgow Housing Association, Scottish Borders Housing Association, River Clyde Homes, Hebridean Housing Partnership, Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership, and Argyll Community Housing Association.

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government announced on September 5 included a commitment to make 50,000 affordable homes available in the five-year period on this parliament. Dr Boyle’s claim that Scotland currently has a “20-year waiting list” is based on 10,000 homes being built each year, which would mean 20 years before enough homes are built for all those currently waiting for a council or housing association house.

There are a number of problems with the data used in the lists.

Firstly, it is incomplete, with no data being released by six local authorities. This means the size of the waiting list published by the Scottish Government is almost certainly underestimated. Glasgow’s council stock, for example, was transferred to a city-wide housing association after a ballot of tenants in 2002. Not including Scotland’s most populous local authority area means the Scottish Government statistics for Scotland is likely to be an inaccurate estimate.

There is also a known issue of so-called double counting on the housing lists. This is acknowledged by the Scottish Government’s statistical releases, as applicants may be on more than one authority’s list. This means it is almost impossible for a true figure for people waiting, rather than the size of the reported list.

The report states: “Some applicants will be on more than one authority’s list, and the Scotland total therefore includes an unquantifiable amount of double counting.”

The report also confirms that some local authorities include registered social landlords within the data provided, and some only measure the council’s own housing.

Finally, the inconsistencies in data classification mean the totals for those waiting for a council or housing association property also include a significant number of those waiting for transfer within the public stock. It is therefore very difficult to conclude exactly how many people are waiting for council or affordable homes from the data provided.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

The claim from Dr Boyle does not address all the problems with measuring waiting lists. The waiting list figure would likely be higher than the Scottish Government’s published statistics if the six missing local authorities were included. However, there is a difficulty in separating those waiting for housing and those awaiting transfer within the public housing stock, and an ‘unquantifiable’ amount of double counting in the figures. This means the claim that 200,000 people are waiting cannot be safely assumed.

This claim is half true.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

In response to an FFS request for evidence, Dr John Boyle provided links to the Scottish Government lists, and a report detailing Scottish Labour’s analysis of the waiting lists of the six councils not included in the overall statistics.

Photo thanks to twak, CC BY-SA 2.0