Covid Scotland: New figures show households in temporary accommodation 'skyrocketed' during pandemic

The number of people in temporary accommodation as a result of homelessness has risen sharply in the past year, reaching a peak of 14,000 in September.

New figures published on Tuesday reveal there were 13,097 households in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hostels last March – an increase of 12 per cent compared to the previous year – with a spike in September at 14,151.

The Scottish Government data also shows while the number of homelessness applications fell over the year, there was also a reduction in the number of cases closed. As a result, the number of open homelessness cases saw a 10 per cent increase compared to March 2020, peaking at 27,058 in September.

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The Scottish Government has published new statistics on homelessness.

Overall there were 33,792 applications for homelessness assistance, a fall of 3,251 or 9 per cent, compared with 2019/20. The numbers of households assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness also dropped by 13 per cent to 27,571.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said the figures showed Scotland’s homelessness crisis was “going nowhere fast”, with the temporary accommodation numbers shown to have “skyrocketed”.

The party’s housing spokesperson Paul McGarry said: “As the pandemic becomes less about an immediate emergency in our hospitals, attention needs to shift to the other issues that have been stored up during lockdown.

"Whether it’s living on the streets, sofa-surfing or shuttling between temporary accommodation, these unstable living arrangements take a huge toll on people’s mental and physical health.

“People need to be supported so that those in unstable living situations aren’t thrown from temporary accommodation back towards a place where they can’t cope.

“Scotland has been struggling to cope with its homelessness crisis for years. A roof over your head should be the bare minimum.”

However, new housing secretary Shona Robison said the introduction of protections to prevent evictions has resulted in a 42 per cent reduction in homelessness applications from the private rented sector.

She said: “As recently as last week we announced a £10 million grant fund to support tenants who are struggling as a direct result of the pandemic.

“We also saw a huge effort by partners to work collectively and move hundreds of people from the streets and night shelters into a place of safety. The number of people sleeping rough in the areas where it was concentrated is now at a record low.”

On the increase in numbers in temporary accommodation, she said the government’s “utmost objective now is to step up our work with councils to ensure people are supported into permanent settled accommodation”.

"We are investing £37.5m to support councils to prioritise settled accommodation for all,” she said.

“I am glad we are starting to see reductions in number of open homeless cases and in the number of households in temporary accommodation since peaks in September 2020.

“We have pledged an extra £50m to end homelessness and rough sleeping.

“We are taking firm action and this month revealed that 102,055 affordable homes have been delivered since April 2007, with 70,866 of these for social rent.

"We also plan to deliver another 100,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70 per cent for social rent, as part of our Housing to 2040 strategy.”

However, Scottish Labour’s housing spokesperson Mark Griffin said the “stark” figures should “act as a wake-up call”.

He said: “Every year families are forced to spend more and more time in temporary accommodation, waiting for the safe, secure housing we all deserve. This is before we have even felt the full effects of the pandemic. If we do not act now, the worst might still be to come.

“The SNP’s refusal to extend the evictions ban to all levels has created a ticking time bomb of homelessness. We urgently need a plan to get people into their own homes, without relying on temporary accommodation.”

And Scottish Conservative local government spokesman, Miles Briggs, said: "These are incredibly disheartening figures, reporting an all-time high in the number of households in temporary accommodation.

"These numbers show that the average length of stay in temporary housing was the longest in at least four years. Before the SNP came to power, it took 123 days to close homelessness applications; today, it takes 248 days.

"There is also a decline in the proportion of homeless households that have found permanent housing.

"The Scottish Conservatives have called on all parties to commit to eliminate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. We have pushed for assistance in obtaining private sector tenancies, a review of the law governing homelessness prevention, and the introduction of ambitious housebuilding targets.

"Despite having 14 years to act, SNP Ministers have failed to deliver, leaving thousands of households in despair. This national disgrace must be addressed immediately as they have a moral obligation to support those in urgent need."

Ashleigh Simpson, head of policy and communications for Scotland at homeless charity Crisis, said both national and local government support for the homeless since the start of the pandemic, taking people off the streets and into safe, self-contained accommodation, had “undoubtedly saved lives.”

But she added: “While we’ve seen extraordinary progress in ending rough sleeping in Scotland over the last year or so, the response was only ever a short-term solution, which has led to record numbers of people living in temporary accommodation. We need action to ensure these people are supported quickly into safe and settled homes.

“Scotland has some of the best protections for people experiencing homelessness in the world, but far too many people are being forced to leave their homes.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. The best way to end homelessness is to stop people from losing their accommodation in the first place – that’s why we want the Scottish Government and MSPs from every party to come together to change the law around homelessness prevention, so that people get the support they need, when they need it.”

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