Homelessness ‘getting worse’ as children in temporary accommodation figures rise again

Shelter Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to act quickly to prevent the recent progress on homelessness being reversed after new “shocking” new figures revealed an annual increase in homelessness applications.

Official homelessness and housing options statistics, published in two reports this morning, have shown that Scottish local authorities received 34,972 applications for homelessness assistance between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, 1% higher than the same period during 2016/17.

The number of children in temporary accommodation increased by 557 children (+9%) to 6,615 compared with the same date one year ago – the fourth consecutive annual increase.

The annual increase in homelessness applications follows eight consecutive annual decreases seen in the preceding years. The Homelessness in Scotland: 2017/18 report said the fall in homelessness applications (from a peak of 57,672 in 2008/09 to 34,570 in 2016/17) is likely to be due to the impact of housing options and homelessness prevention strategies adopted by most local authorities over the past few years rather than to changes in the underlying drivers of homelessness.

The rate of reduction in homelessness applications has significantly slowed over most recent years, with 1% increase being seen in the latest year. This suggests that, in its current form, the impact of housing options work is unlikely to lead to further large reductions in applications beyond those already seen, the report added.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “These statistics are shocking and should start alarm bells ringing in Holyrood that homelessness in Scotland is getting worse not better.

“Every 18 minutes a household was made homeless in Scotland last year with 34,972 homelessness applications – more than last year.

“For the fourth year in a row the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation has risen – up 9% to 6,615. And people are having to stay longer in temporary accommodation with their lives in limbo.”

Graeme Brown added: “This is clear evidence that the good progress we have seen in recent years is now being reversed and bad housing and homelessness is blighting the lives of even more people in Scotland – robbing them of their health, security and a fair chance in life.

“We welcome the focus on homelessness in the last year from the Scottish Government but it is now time for urgent action from all areas of local and national government to work together better to tackle and prevent homelessness in Scotland. We need urgent action and resources now to start making a difference to all those facing or suffering homelessness.”

Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive and chair of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group in Scotland, added: “While we welcome the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to limit the amount of time people are being forced to stay in the most unsuitable forms of temporary accommodation to seven days, today’s figures are a stark reminder of just how urgently we need action. An average of 36 days is an unacceptable amount of time to be stuck in a B&B.

“Every day we see first-hand the effects of long stays in these types of accommodation; people can become isolated, with little access to vital support services, in sub-standard conditions with nowhere to wash clothes or cook. Long periods living in limbo like this are damaging to people’s mental health and job prospects and make it harder for them to move out of homelessness for good. The new 7-day limit we’re proposing would undoubtedly improve lives, but it would also result in significant savings. Our own recent research has found moving all homeless people out of unsuitable temporary accommodation within this time period could save £29m in public money this year alone.

“Scotland is one of the world leaders in tackling homelessness, and has an opportunity to take a significant step towards ending homelessness for good by making long stays in temporary accommodation a thing of the past. Now is the time to act.”

Commenting on the publication of the latest homelessness and housing options statistics, housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “Everyone deserves a safe and warm place to call home which is why we are committed to ending homelessness and rough sleeping for good. While the long-term trend shows a decrease in the number of homeless applications – a reduction of 39% between 2008/9 and 2017/18 – these figures are a reminder of why preventing homelessness and transforming temporary accommodation will remain a key priority for government.

“We want time spent in unsuitable temporary accommodation to be as short as possible, especially for households with children or where there is a pregnancy. This is why we introduced a cap of one week for families and pregnant women living in B&B accommodation. We also need temporary accommodation to be of a high standard, with good support, for everyone.

“Last year we formed a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group to tackle this issue, as well as homelessness and rough sleeping more widely. The group recently set out a number of recommendations on how we can transform the use of temporary accommodation and we will be bringing forwards a programme of work to implement these recommendations, backed up by the £50 million Ending Homelessness Together Fund, to drive change and improvement.

“In addition to this we are committed to delivering more affordable homes across the country, providing the high-quality, efficient and cost-effective homes everyone deserves. Since 2007 we have delivered more than 76,500 affordable homes and are on track to reach our target of at least 50,000 affordable homes over the course of this Parliament. Our ambitious target is backed by over £3 billion investment – the single biggest investment in, and delivery of, affordable housing since devolution.”

Key Points, covering the Homelessness publication:


  • Scottish local authorities received 34,972 applications for homelessness assistance between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, 1% higher than the same period during 2016/17.
  • The proportion of direct homelessness applications – that is those which don’t go through Housing Options first, is increasing. During April 2017 to March 2018, 46% of all homelessness applications – were direct applications, up 3% on 2016/17.
  • The main reasons for applying as homeless have remained largely unchanged in the latest year. Dispute within the household / relationship breakdown is one of the main causes of homelessness applications (30% of all applications) or being asked to leave (25%).
  • Assessments

    • 82% of applicants (28, 792 assessments out of a total of 34,950 assessments) were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness in 2017/18. This proportion has increased steadily from 72% in 2004/5, but has since levelled off and remains largely unchanged since 2014/15.
    • Repeat homelessness has remained at a similar level to 2016/17 and was 6.4% for 2017/18.
    • The proportion of homeless assessments where the applicant had at least one support need has increased from 34% in 2012-13 to 47% in 2017-18. This trend suggests that a larger proportion of applicant households have more complex needs being recorded than was previously the case.
    • Outcomes

      • For those households assessed as unintentionally homeless (with a right to settled accommodation), just over two-thirds (18,457 or 69%) secured a social rented tenancy or a private rented sector tenancy. This proportion has gradually increased each year since 2013/14, when 66% secured settled accommodation.
      • An outcome of lost contact or unknown outcome was reported for 15% of cases closed which had been assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness during 2017/18. The overall proportion of lost contacts has remained roughly the same since 2009/10, varying between 17% and 20%.
      • Temporary accommodation

        As at 31 March 2018:-

        • There were 10,933 households in temporary accommodation, an increase of 60 households (+ 1%) since last year.
        • Of these households in temporary accommodation, 3,349 had children – an increase of 118 households (+4%) compared with one year earlier and the fourth consecutive annual increase.
        • The number of children in temporary accommodation increased by 557 children (+9%) to 6,615, compared with the same date one year ago and the fourth consecutive annual increase.
        • During 2017/18 (based on new information presented within the publication for the first time using new HL3 placement level data on temporary accommodation) :-

          • A total of 20,320 unique households entered temporary accommodation and 20,450 exited temporary accommodation.
          • The majority of households entering and exiting temporary accommodation were single person households (68% entering and 69% exiting), while around a quarter (26% entering and 25% exiting) contained children.
          • Households in temporary accommodation spent an average of 171 days (just under six months) in temporary accommodation placements. Households with children tended to be in temporary accommodation for longer (204 days) compared to households without children (161 days).
          • Off the 20,450 households which exited temporary accommodation during 2017/18, the majority (68%) had a total duration of 5 weeks to 12 months, this includes 4,344 households (21%) which were in temporary accommodation for 5 to 12 weeks, 4,770 households (23%) which were in temporary accommodation for 3 to 6 months and 4,784 households (23%) with a duration of 7 to 12 months. A total of 2,582 households (13%) were in temporary accommodation for a year or longer, whilst 4,006 households (20%) were in for a 4 weeks or less.
          • When looking at average time within each placement, housing association placements (212 days) local authority placements (141 days) and private sector lease placements (177 days) are more likely to have involved longer periods of time on average than other types of temporary accommodation. In comparison, hostel placements (64 days) and bed and breakfast placements (36 days) have tended to be shorter on average.
          • Breaches of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation Order) (Scotland)

            • It is important to note that figures presented on breaches of unsuitable accommodation are on a different basis to those included in previous publications. The Homelessness Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation Order) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2017, implemented from 2nd October 2017, has reduced the specified time period from 14 days to 7 days. In addition to this, the new HL3 placement level data provides a picture of total breaches throughout the entire year, as opposed to at a snapshot date, however the HL3 data begins in the year 2017/18 and so annual trends are not yet available on this basis.
            • There were 20 breaches of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014 as at 31stMarch 2018.
            • Between 1 April 2017 and 31stMarch 2018 (based on temporary accommodation placement cases closed during this period), there were 400 placements involving a breach of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order. Most of these were in Edinburgh (280 breaches), but there were nine other local authorities in which breaches of the Order were recorded.
            • Key Points, covering the Housing Options publication:


              • In the last year (1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018), there were 43,900 approaches recorded. Compared with the same period one year ago, there has been a reduction of 8,185 approaches across Scotland (-16%).
              • At 31 March 2018, 18,270 approaches remained open. This equates to 8% of all approaches recorded since 1 April 2014.
              • Despite the overall reduction in Housing Options approaches when comparing 2017/18 with 2016/17, the proportion of approaches made for homelessness type reasons (61%) versusprevention type reasons (39%) has remained the same across these two years.
              • Activities

                • The most common type of activity was to provide general housing advice and tenancy rights advice - this accounted for 38% of all activities during 2017/18. Informing clients of their rights under the homelessness legislation accounted for 27% of all activities.
                • Outcomes

                  • For approaches closed during the 2017/18 financial year, 45% of approaches made a homelessness application, 22% remained in their current accommodation and 19% had an unknown outcome or contact was lost. 14% found alternative accommodation, including a social rented tenancy (4%), a private rented tenancy (3%) and moving in with family and friends (2%). Other known outcomes accounted for a further 5%. There is considerable variation in the mix of outcomes by Local Authority area, reflecting the locally developed nature of Housing Options policies.
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