Charities and opposition parties have raised concerns about the hundreds of thousands in fees Scotland’s local authorities have charged to homeless people for storing their belongings.
Freedom of information requests to Scotland’s 32 councils showed that while the majority cover storage costs themselves, more than a third of councils passed the costs to the homeless.
These charges have seen homeless people pay more than £270,000 to cover the costs of private storage firms over the last five years.
Shelter Scotland said that it was “absurd and heartless” for councils to charge homeless people to store their possessions.
Scottish Labour called the charges “deeply troubling” and attributed them to Scottish Government cuts to council budgets. The Scottish Conservatives called for “a Scotland-wide approach” to abolish a “postcode lottery”.
From 2013-2018, Fife Council charged homeless people more than £121,000 – the highest figure of any local authority by some margin.
The second highest figure came from East Lothian Council, which charged £47,000, followed by South Lanarkshire Council, which charged £36,000 and Highland Council, which charged £31,000.
Aberdeenshire Council charged £4,118 to three homeless households over the five year period, while East Ayrshire Council charged £971 to just two applicants in a single year.
Scottish Borders Council no longer charges homeless people for storage, but charged one person £340 in 2013/14.
|Council Name||Total Cost|
|East Lothian Council||£47,482.53|
|South Lanarkshire Council||£36,205.80|
|East Ayrshire Council||£971.16|
|Scottish Borders Council||£340.00|
A ‘postcode lottery’ of storage charges
The 21 councils that did not charge homeless people used either council-owned property, private storage contractors, or a mixture of both.
The 11 councils that did charge used private storage firms and passed along some or all of the costs to the homeless. These costs varied significantly between local authorities.
In some council areas, those on benefits paid lower costs. East Lothian Council charged those in receipt of income support or means-assessed benefits £5 per week. Those who did not qualify for housing benefits were charged half the storage costs, which ranged from around £27-46 per week.
Those in Orkney in receipt of housing benefit were not charged storage costs, while those in receipt of partial housing benefit were charged £10 per week “towards their storage costs, per container”.
The council said that all other applicants paid full storage costs but that quotes were requested from multiple suppliers in order to get “the best value”.
Aberdeenshire, Moray and South Lanarkshire Councils said that costs varied depending on factors such as the type, location, availability, space and duration of storage required.
Inverclyde Council said that it did not have its own storage facilities and that people had to independently book storage with private contractors.
Homeless people in many council areas also had to pay additional charges to access their belongings.
Fife Council said that people had to pay £55 plus VAT, per container, before they were permitted access – the highest of any council area.
Edinburgh City Council issued no access charge. However, “until late 2017”, Edinburgh’s homeless had to pay a £50 access charge to the council’s storage contractor.
East Lothian Council allowed applicants free access to their goods on one occasion, “thereafter it is a matter between themselves and the contractor”.
Angus and Moray Council said that costs depended on what different storage companies charged, with the costs being passed on to applicants.
Removal and delivery charges
Seven councils specified that homeless people were also charged for the removal and delivery of their belongings. Orkney Council charged for half the removal costs, “up to a maximum of £500”.
Stirling Council said that the charge for uplifting and transporting possessions both to and from its storage facility costed between £118.95 and £198.45, based on quantity.
Fife Council also charged for both delivery and removal costs. The removal costs for the contents of one bedroom costed £95 plus VAT, with marginal increased costs for additional bedrooms.
East Lothian Council covered the costs for “the initial uplift of goods into storage” while removal and delivery costs were passed to the homeless person.
|Council Name||Storage Charges||Access Charges||Delivery/Removal Charges|
|Angus Council||Varies "depending on the applicant’s ability to pay".||"Unable to separate" from total cost figures.||Did not specify|
|Edinburgh City Council||No Charge||£50 "until late 2017"||Did not specify|
|Fife Council||1 container: £7.28 p/w||£55 plus VAT, per container.||1 bedroom: £95 + VAT|
|East Ayrshire Council||£8 + VAT p/w per container||Removal not permitted||Did not specify|
|Falkirk Council||1-3 boxes: Flat-rate of £17.19||No Charge||Did not specify|
|Highland Council||£10 p/w, or £5 p/w for fewer items.||No Charge||£60 each for delivery & removal costs. £25 for fewer items.|
|Orkney Islands Council||Alternating suppliers (most recently £10 + VAT per container p/w)||No Charge||Up to a maximum of £500|
|South Ayrshire Council||No Charge||£25||Did not specify|
|Stirling Council||£11.50 per pallet p/w. Lower charge negotiable for fewer items.||No Charge||£118.95–£198.45, based on quantity|
|West Dunbartonshire Council||No Charge||No Charge||£24 for delivery|
|West Lothian Council||No Charge||£25||£25 to open containers plus £50 deposit|
Chloe*, from Stirlingshire was expecting a baby when she left a house because of problem damp. Shelter Scotland shared with The Ferret her account of how storage charges affected her and her family while they were homeless.
“When we applied for help with homelessness our belongings were being stored in a garage owned by a friend of a friend but we weren’t allowed to leave it there long term. We couldn’t afford the storage offered by the council and I was faced with trying to sell it off or just write it off.
“I was heavily, heavily pregnant and the thought of having to start again from scratch with no furniture was difficult. The council didn’t accept our homelessness application and we had to find a new private let to move into.
“Thanks to help from Shelter Scotland, we were able to keep our belongings. I think the councils need to realise that young families, relying on benefits to get by don’t have money for expensive storage or replacing furniture. They should provide more help.”
*Chloe’s name has been changed to provide anonymity.
Storage charges – a counter productive policy?
Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland’s Director said that it was “absurd and heartless to charge homeless individuals and families to store their furniture and personal belongings.”
“The current average stay in temporary accommodation is just under six months”, he said. “It must be hugely stressful for people to know they are racking up a bill for the storage of their belongings while they wait for a new settled home.
“It is possible to apply for community care grants to help cover these costs and we hope councils are promoting this as an option to those who would otherwise struggle or face losing their belongings.”
Brown praised West Dunbartonshire Council, which does not provide storage facilities, but allows people to take their own belongings into temporary accommodation and removes the council’s excess furniture at no cost.
“Being surrounded by their own possessions will greatly reduce the sense of dislocation felt by people while they wait for a permanent home”, he said.
Chief Executive of Homeless Action Scotland, Gavin Yates, said that issuing storage charges “at a time of high stress and in most cases financial distress appears at best counter-intuitive” and that homeless applicants would “struggle to pay any charges”.
“Most housing professionals would agree that getting people into a sustainable tenancy and maintaining that is the goal and charging people for storage at a time they can ill-afford it does not make much sense.”
The Scottish Conservatives echoed concerns that storage fees could be a barrier to overcoming homelessness. “It seems wrong, and indeed counterproductive, for councils to charge huge amounts for this,” said a party spokesman.
“Nobody wants to be homeless and have their belongings stored in this way – having to then pay for it can add insult to injury. We need to see a Scotland-wide approach that abolishes the postcode lottery element, and works for people who are just trying to get back on their feet. Being met with a huge bill for storage could be an impediment to that.”
Call for government action
Pauline McNeill MSP, Scottish Labour’s spokeswoman on housing said that data on storage costs revealed “deeply troubling figures” and called for action at government level.
“The fact some councils are having to charge so much for homeless people storing or accessing belongings shows how the SNP’s £1.5 billion of cuts to local government are hurting the most vulnerable in society,” she said.
“Rather than cutting councils budgets, the SNP should use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in lifeline services, build more homes and help end homelessness for good.”
The Scottish Government said that ensuring rapid rehousing would reduce the need for storage and that guidelines for councils on charging homeless people were already in place.
“Having accepted the recommendations of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, we are working with local authorities and others to turn them into action”, said a government spokesperson.
“A key aim is to focus on the prevention of homelessness, and a move to a system of rapid rehousing, both of which will reduce the demand for the temporary storage of people’s belongings.
“Where storage is necessary, we expect local authorities to follow the Code of Guidance on Homelessness. This includes looking carefully at the needs and situation of the household before making any decision about any charge.”
Fife Council service Manager Gavin Smith said: “We currently have seven customers who still have belongings in storage and we are working towards reducing that number.
“Over the past three years we have changed the way we work to help customers moving into temporary accommodation to bring their belongings with them where possible and to provide a more flexible service.
“Where we do charge for services, we will meet the cost of this and work with our customers on a repayment plan that suits the household beyond the point of crisis.”
An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “Our main aim is to house families as quickly as possible and it is our policy to provide good quality furnished accommodation.
“In the relatively rare cases where an applicant does have furniture, there is a small charge for storage but if they are in receipt of housing benefit this cost is capped at £5 per week whilst a working applicant pays a maximum amount of 50 per cent of storage costs.
“In all cases we deal with, our teams encourage applicants to apply for the help and benefits they are entitled to including community care grants.”
South Lanarkshire Council executive housing director, Daniel Lowe, said: “South Lanarkshire Council provides homeless individuals and families with a range of temporary accommodation, largely furnished flats, in the community. Our approach is flexible and supporting, allowing households to take their own belongings with them while they are in temporary accommodation.
“For the small number of households who have items to be stored, this service is provided by a professional external contractor and charged directly to the council. We do recoup some of these costs from individuals through an affordable repayment arrangement. The council does not charge any individual to access their own belongings.
“We reviewed our support for homeless families and individuals some four to five years ago and in response to that review we both increased our assistance to allow them to take their own belongings into temporary accommodation and took action to reduce any storage charges.
“In the last three years only six households have required storage at a total overall cost of approximately £1,500. In 2017-18 only one household stored goods at a cost of £148.
“Our services continue to work closely with homeless households providing support including that to to maximise income and seek funding available to them, including the Scottish welfare fund, where appropriate.”
A Highland Council spokesperson said: “When households apply to us as homeless, we give them an opportunity to take their furniture with them where they can. If this is not possible, we advise them about charges and help them explore all their options. In many cases households have family or friends who can assist with storage for a time.
“Households often come to us with few possessions. When moving out of homelessness into settled accommodation, many are eligible for a community care grant to help them furnish it if they are unable to do so themselves.
“We are increasing our supply of dispersed temporary accommodation. This will provide more households with the opportunity of moving into temporary accommodation which they can furnish with their own possessions.”