More than 2,000 homeless people were housed in Glasgow Bed and Breakfasts after Covid-19 hit last year, The Ferret can reveal, while new rules meant to curb the use of such “unsuitable” accommodation were delayed.
The statistics, released under freedom of information legislation, showed a total of 2,294 homeless people were provided temporary accommodation in the city’s B&Bs from April 1 until 24 November last year.
Campaigners said it highlighted the city’s reliance on “unfit temporary accommodation. Shelter Scotland claimed that there must now be “no more excuses and no more delays” in rolling out new rules agreed last May – and initially due to be implemented four months ago – that B&Bs are used in emergencies only for no more than seven days.
Figures from Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership reveal the number of people in often rundown B&Bs were higher at the end of 2020 than at the start of the pandemic. Homeless people are allocated a B&B room on a no-choice basis, often with no cooking or laundry facilities.
In April there were 325 single homeless people in B&Bs in Glasgow. The total rose to over 600, according to Glagsow City Council, and by 24 November there were 464.
New “unsuitable housing” rules will put a seven day limit on council’s use of B&B accommodation. The limit was initially to be implemented in September 2020, but exemptions allowed councils to continue to use B&Bs due to the pandemic until the end of January 21. Last week it was announced that the seven-day-limit would not be fully enforced until June.
Yet as of 24 November, 406 of the 464 people housed in Glasgow homeless B&Bs had been there for more than a week, raising concerns that councils are over-using the exemption clauses.
While homeless charities agree that the “unprecedented circumstances” of the pandemic add challenges in terms of moving people on, some have serious concerns about the council’s reliance on “unsuitable” accommodation.
Forty people had been in Glasgow B&Bs for more than six months. Four people had been living in their allocated room for more than a year.
The FoI also revealed that the cost of providing B&B accommodation for just under eight months was £7.52m. An additional £3.61m funding was provided to the council during the pandemic.
All the B&Bs used are owned by private companies and landlords.
However, earlier this week Glasgow City Council claimed it had reduced the number of homeless people accommodated in hotels and B&Bs during the lockdown by around a quarter from a peak of 600.
It says this number will reduce even further as more people are offered settled accommodation.
Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said that the continued use of other B&Bs for long periods of time, both in Glasgow and elsewhere, had to stop.
“People in crisis need homes, not B&Bs,” she said. “There’s clear evidence that spending long stretches of time in unsuitable temporary accommodation is harmful to people’s mental and physical health. And in the middle of a pandemic, the risk is even greater.”
The new legislation, recommended in 2018 by the Scottish Government’s Homeless and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG), already applies to families with children and pregnant women.
Watson said the Scottish Government should not have extended the use of exemptions due to end this month, until June.
She added: “The Scottish Government knows this situation is unacceptable. But last week, they went back on their own promise to ensure no homeless household spends more than a week in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
“Our message to government is clear: no more excuses, no more delays. There are homes available, but people who are homeless are not being prioritised. So this isn’t about capacity, it’s about political will.
“The Scottish Government must immediately end the use of exemptions to the Unsuitable Accommodation Order and ensure that Local Authorities have the support and resources they need to quickly move homeless households into decent accommodation.”
Critics say that B&Bs are ill-equipped to house people in crisis, including both those in recovery and others struggling with ongoing addiction issues.
In many, there are strict rules including an 11pm curfew, and there is no requirement for staff to be trained or registered with the Care Inspectorate.
Dr Beth Watts, senior researcher at Herriot Watt University’s Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research said meeting the new seven-day limit on the use of B&Bs was going to be very challenging for some local authorities.
“It is very positive that the Scottish Government has taken bold legal action to limit the use of some of the least suitable and most damaging forms of temporary accommodation,” she added.
“Nation-wide legal change, however, is not enough to address these issues. It’s absolutely clear that in addition to the legal steps taken, targeted and intensive work is needed to support local authorities still relying on unsuitable forms of accommodation at a significant scale.”
‘Unfit emergency accommodation’
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said that work done at the start of the pandemic to get people off the streets and into safe accommodation had “undoubtedly saved lives”.
However, he claimed longterm solutions must be found. “We must all work together to ensure these individuals are supported to move into safe, and settled homes as quickly as possible and are not left in limbo, unable to rebuild their lives,” he said.
“Our research has shown how unfit emergency accommodation, without basic living facilities, such as kitchens or laundry, is detrimental to health and well-being, yet too often people can be left in accommodation for prolonged periods of time.
“We welcomed the Scottish Government decision to reduce the legal limit on time spent in hotels and B&BS, and while the current circumstances are clearly unprecedented, it’s essential that people experiencing homelessness, including those living in temporary accommodation, are prioritised in Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic.”
A spokeswoman for Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership said it had made “good progress” in moving on homeless people in hotel and B&B accommodation, reducing overall numbers by almost 150 from a peak of over 600.
“Reducing the number of people in hotels will very much depend on further Covid-19 restrictions, however at this point we are confident that the current restrictions will not impede our progress,” she added.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the pandemic continues and variant strains of the virus are now moving throughout Scotland the threat to public health is considerable.
“This is why we are extending the temporary exceptions until the end of June to allow stays in emergency temporary accommodation in response to Covid-19. This ensures that the health of those in such accommodation is prioritised and we are keeping them safe.”
Cover image thanks to iStock.