West Lothian Council calls for ‘radical and urgent action’ to tackle homelessness
West Lothian Council has called for “radical and urgent action” to help tackle the homelessness crisis amid a project £2 million overspend on the issue.
The local authority set out a number of measures that have become necessary to reduce the reliance on costly B&B accommodation for those who present as homeless, and to improve the availability of affordable homes.
The council said it is taking radical steps in an effort to reduce the need for B&B accommodation, reduce costs and help ensure that funding is spent on improving and creating new homes, rather than B&B accommodation.
The demand for homeless services in West Lothian exceeds supply by 312% and is not expected to fall in any significant way over the next three years, the council warned. Challenges such as the consequences of rising costs of living, increased mortgage costs, higher rent in the private sector and changes to homeless legislation will be exacerbated further through plans to increase the existing legal requirements placed on councils, and the lack of resources for local government to meet these new duties and to prevent homelessness, it added.
The report found that an increased number of abandoned properties requiring time-consuming repairs is contributing to a lack of available properties for prospective tenants and leading to an overreliance on B&Bs and temporary accommodation.
West Lothian Council said it has identified a number of measures have been identified that could assist in reducing the projected overspend in the three-year period. One measure approved is to temporarily suspend all non-urgent mainstream housing repairs and to redirect resources to empty properties for short periods. This would allow operatives to focus on making these homes requiring more significant repairs available for re-let quicker.
As of 8th November 2023, the service holds a total of 11,464 applications for housing, of which 10,291 are council housing applications, with 1080 homeless cases. The council is projecting an overspend of £2.473m on homelessness in 2023/24 with future overpsends projected in 2024/25 and 2025/26.
Julie Whitelaw, interim head of housing, customer and building services, said: “The imbalance between supply and demand for permanent social rented accommodation continues to be a key challenge in West Lothian. There remains a high number of people applying to the council for permanent housing through the council’s allocations policy, as well as accommodation required for homeless applicants to enable the council to discharge is statutory homeless duty. As of 8th November 2023, the service holds a total of 11,464 applications for housing, of which 10,291 are council housing applications, with 1080 homeless cases.
“The council is projecting an overspend of £2.473m on homelessness in 2023/24. It is projected that throughout 2023/24, an average of 180 clients per night will be accommodated in B&B/hotels at an average cost of £81 per night.
“The projections for 2023/24 show that the council is likely to experience a significant budget pressure, and B&B usage will continue to be the largest area of spend and pressure as the large backlog of homeless applicants waiting for permanent accommodation continues to feed increased usage and longer length of stays as well as lack of available bed spaces at affordable price. Forecasts indicate that in 2024/25 and 2025/26 projected budget gaps of £1.683m and £1.120m.
“These stark figures are not the results of local failures of policy or implementation, they are the result of systematic weaknesses in the housing system and failure to address them at a national level. This is supported by the Scottish Housing Regulator thematic review of homelessness which stated that some local authorities are under such extreme pressure they are facing systematic failure. The recent report from SOLACE, ALACHO and CoSLA also set out the unsustainable pressure on local authorities housing and homeless systems.
“The ability to move people quickly through the housing system is simply no longer possible due to the lack of permanent housing options which has created unsustainable pressures in temporary accommodation and significant reliance on B&Bs.”
Executive councillor for Housing, George Paul said: “It is very obvious that councils across Scotland simply do not have anywhere near enough housing stock to meet demand and we do not have a fraction of the funding required to build enough homes.
“I’m sure all councils do what they can, but a radical change in approach at national level is required in Scotland to make any meaningful impact.
“Like so many other issues, housing is often used as a political football, but I suspect that the vast majority of people could not care less about that. They want and need people to make decisions that will help them. We are trying to help get people into homes but the external pressures causing homelessness are significant, and it is expected to get worse before it gets better.
“We cannot help everyone that needs and wants a council home. We simply do not have anywhere near the amount of resources to do that. However, we are committed to improving existing homes and building more homes. I can say that we will do our best to help as many people as we can, as quickly as we can and that is why we are taking this radical action.”