Local authorities across Scotland have paid out more than half a billion pounds putting homeless people in temporary accommodation such hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) in the last five years, according to figures obtained by The Ferret.
A freedom of information request to all of Scotland’s councils has revealed that they spent over £660 million between 2012 and 2017. Housing experts said the figure highlighted a longstanding and chronic under-investment in social housing.
Almost a third of the total – just over £200m – was spent by councils on private accommodation providers, including hotels and B&Bs run by companies and flats owned by landlords. Councils will recoup some costs through housing benefit.
Shelter Scotland said that the figures illustrated a “broken system” that was failing people, and called for investment in social housing. Crisis, which is campaigning for a strict time limit on temporary accommodation, claimed they showed the need for better legislation to prevent homelessness.
Opposition politicians branded the figures “scandalous”, saying that they were evidence of the need for housing to take greater national priority, and to fix the “inadequate” welfare system.
Edinburgh City Council paid out the most, with figures recording a total of almost £192m. Payment to private providers totalled just over £145m.
The private provider total was largely made up of substantial payments to private companies and landlords, though charities were also included. One company, which runs B&Bs used as emergency accommodation for homeless people across the city, received at least £16.8m over the five year period.
Council chiefs admitted the local authority was facing “enormous challenges” due to escalating housing costs in the capital.
Glasgow City Council, covering Scotland’s largest city, recorded the second biggest figure with a total of £126m. It did not detail how much it paid out to private providers, but spent over £10m on hotel and B&B provision in the period.
North Lanarkshire, Fife and Aberdeen City were also amongst the top five spenders on temporary accommodation.
Some local authorities were heavily reliant on private providers. Highland Council paid out a total of just over £18m, £17m of which went to private providers. The council said that this was due to its unique geography and infrastructure.
Spending data in full
|Council Name||Total spend||Private provider total|
|Dumfries and Galloway||£10,464,932||£4,561,003|
|Argyll and Bute||£3,810,329||£3,810,329|
|Perth and Kinross||£13,001,755||£33,101|
The figures also showed that homeless people across Scotland could spend months, or even years, in so-called “temp”. Average waits of over 500 days were reported in East Dunbartonshire, while in Glasgow people spent an average or almost a year in temp flats before being given permanent accommodation. The average in Aberdeen went from 17.7 weeks in 2013 to 26 weeks in 2016.
The Scottish Government compelled local authorities to publish time spent in temporary housing for the first time in 2018, following a recommendation from the homelessness and rough sleeping action group it formed last September. But the five year figures provided to The Ferret showed a long term issue with waiting times.
According to an interim report by Heriot Watt University on temporary homeless accommodation, the introduction of 2012 legislation giving local authorities a duty to house all unintentionally homeless people has put huge pressure on the sector.
The report quoted one senior local authority manager comparing the homeless housing system to “a sausage factory”. Councils were said to be “putting loads of people into temporary accommodation but nothing was coming out at the end”.
The report noted particular issues for Edinburgh City Council where 24 per cent of those in temporary housing were in hostels and 35 per cent in B&Bs.
The Ferret spoke to several people in Edinburgh B&Bs who said strict curfews, poor standards and a lack of security have affected their physical and mental health. A task force set up by the council is now looking at putting in place minimum standards such as cooking and laundry facilities – but critics argue that is not enough.
The report also highlighted other local authorities making extensive use of B&Bs including Perth and Kinross, Dundee, Inverclyde and East Ayrshire as well as those councils – including East Lothian and East Dunbartonshire – which have reduced B&B use significantly.
We are particularly concerned about the use of bed and breakfast accommodation Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis and chair of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group, said the standards of temporary accommodation were hugely variable. “We are particularly concerned about the use of bed and breakfast accommodation,” he added.
In response to concerns, Crisis is campaigning for a time restriction of seven days for everyone placed in emergency accommodation. Their curfews and lack of cooking and washing facilities have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health and job prospects, it says. The Scottish Government says it agrees “in principle” with the call.
“We need to make sure that public money is being used as effectively as possible,” argued Sparks. “Clearly funding landlords to provide poor quality accommodation in the private sector is not good for the people housed there or for the public purse.”
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Temporary accommodation is an essential part of our housing safety net and while the cost is high it is what we have to pay to ensure people do not face having no home at all.”
But he claimed the need to buy in millions of pounds from private providers was a clear consequence of under-investment in social housing. “Successive governments in London and Edinburgh have failed to fix our broken housing system,” he added.
“It has brought misery to the lives of tens of thousands of people and has been an expensive mistake for the public purse. This amount of money could have built a lot of houses.”
Brown said the charity heard daily stories of people living in limbo and struggling, adding: “Behind these figures is the grim reality of life for many people who are being failed.”
Pauline McNeill MSP, Scottish Labour spokeswoman on housing, suggested that while the Scottish Government’s task force was doing good work, housing should be put at the top of the national agenda. “We are spending millions [on temp] because we don’t have enough homes,” she said. “The figures are a scandal but they are telling us that there is an acute problem with the housing system. It is not fit for purpose.”
The Scottish Government has already asked councils to look at tackling the issue by submitting Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans – detailing how councils will reduce time spent in temp – by December 2018. Councillor Elena Whitham, of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities added: “This should ultimately lead to reductions in the need for temporary accommodation.”
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart confirmed the government is currently looking at how best to fund temporary homeless accommodation. It has committed to an additional £50m towards ending homelessness.
He added: “Tackling and preventing homelessness is a key priority for the Scottish Government and we want to do more, particularly for people with complex needs who require more than just housing.
“That is why we set up the homelessness and rough sleeping action group, which has brought forward a wide range of recommendations to transform the use of temporary accommodation. These include improved standards and support for residents with the aim to provide permanent homes as quickly as possible.”
What councils said in full
Edinburgh City Council: Councillor Kate Campbell, housing and economy convener, said: “We have enormous challenges due to the lack of affordable housing in Edinburgh as well as having the added pressure of high rents and house prices across the city. The biggest number of presentations in homelessness comes from the private sector due to affordability. That’s why we have one of the most ambitious council-led affordable housebuilding programmes in the UK.
“At the end of last year, we set up a cross party homelessness task force, which I chair. Ending the use of bed and breakfast accommodation, particularly for families, is one of our top priorities. This will take some time and so for people in B&Bs just now we’re changing our contracts with providers to ensure they have access to cooking, laundry and food storage facilities.”
Glasgow City Council: A spokeswoman said: “Over the same period, 40,000 households made homeless applications. We had to urgently provide these people with somewhere to stay to save them from rough sleeping. £150m divided by 40,000 is £3,750 – obviously that is far from enough to build a house. Also, GCC is not a housing provider – we value our close working relationship with the 68 registered social landlords in the city. Investment in long term housing is a question you should direct to the Scottish Government.”
North Lanarkshire Council: Stephen Llewellyn, head of housing solutions: said: “People facing difficult housing situations, including those who are homeless, often require temporary accommodation as the most suitable short-term solution to their particular circumstances.
“Our priority is to offer the most appropriate housing support to those who need it. We have recently announced a huge expansion of our new-build housing programme in addition to our ground-breaking open market purchase scheme which will help increase the supply of affordable housing in our area.”
Information from City of Edinburgh Council
Information from Glasgow City Council
Information from North Lanarkshire Council
Information from Fife Council
This story is published in tandem with the i newspaper.