Homelessness is increasing in Scotland and across the rest of the UK with politicians facing pressure on how to tackle the problem.
The UK’s new homelessness minister, Heather Wheeler, commented in a Guardian interview on the differences between Scotland and England over homelessness.
She argued that it was not welfare cuts which were behind the recent increases, but a lack of affordable housing. This was followed by a claim that Scotland did not use the private sector to house homeless people.
Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be False.
The latest 2017 statistics on homelessness in Scotland show a three per cent increase in homelessness applications compared to the previous comparable period in 2016. In total, 17,797 applications were made in the six months April to September 2017. This is after a long-term decrease in homeless applications since 2010.
The Scottish Government report states that, “this downward trend has slowed down over the last couple of years and has levelled out since 2015”.
However, the problem is much greater in England which has seen homelessness increase since 2010.
In the newspaper interview on 18 March, Wheeler contrasted the situation in Scotland and England, arguing that the central issue was about the availability of affordable housing for the homeless.
She said that Scotland does not use “private sector rental” to house people. This is not correct.
Scottish housing charity Shelter confirmed to FFS that private sector accommodation is still used extensively by local authorities for homeless people.
The latest Scottish Government statistics show a significant number of Scots are put up in “temporary accommodation” while space is found for them in the social sector. These commonly include privately run hostels and bed and breakfast lodgings.
According to the most recent figures, there were 10,899 people in temporary accommodation in Scotland, a small increase on 2016.
Of this total, nearly 3500 people were being housed in private lodgings. This included more than 1000 in bed and breakfast accommodation and 976 in private hostels.
This means that around 30 per cent of those in temporary accommodation are in private lodgings.
Statistics from Shelter in 2017 found 60 per cent of homeless households spent time in temporary accommodation before finding permanent lodgings. Twelve per cent of homeless households spent more than a year in temporary lodgings in 2016.
The homelessness minister also suggested that the reason for Scotland’s lack of reliance on private sector accommodation was down to a greater supply of affordable housing in Scotland.
Scotland’s affordable housing situation has long been a matter of contention. Waiting lists for housing are hard to assess accurately, as there is a lack of accurate and consistently measured data across Scotland’s local authorities.
There are also known cases of ‘double counting’ – where those awaiting housing are put on waiting lists for more than one local authority, leading to unmeasurable distortion in the data.
Despite this uncertainty, it is clear there is a significant waiting list for housing in Scotland, with the current overall waiting list sits at 143,100. This is an indication that Scotland suffers from a lack of supply in affordable housing.
The Scottish Government has committed to building 50,000 new affordable homes across the current parliamentary period.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: False
Heather Wheeler’s claims on Scotland’s homelessness are not accurate.
There is well-documented use of private lodgings for temporary accommodation in Scotland, with many reported cases of people staying in such housing for significant periods.
There is also a significant waiting list for affordable housing in Scotland, while the Scottish Government has acknowledged a lack of supply and has increased building projects to cover demand.
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. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our community forum.
In response to a Ferret Fact Service evidence request, the UK government provided background on Heather Wheeler’s comments and the £28m investment in Housing First social housing pilots across England.