The figures were uncovered through Freedom of Information requests by investigations platform The Ferret and reveals public spend totalling around £660m between 2012 and 2017.
Almost a third of this total – over £210m – was spent by councils on private accommodation providers, including B&Bs and hotels run by private companies and flats owned by private landlords. Councils will recoup some costs through housing benefit.
Shelter Scotland said that the figures illustrated a “broken system” that was failing people, and called for investment in social housing.
Last year the number of homeless applications in Scotland rose by 1 per cent to 34,972. It is expected to rise steadily in coming years.
Crisis, which is campaigning for a strict time limit on temporary accommodation, claimed the statistics highlighted the need for better legislation to prevent homelessness. Opposition politicians called the “scandalous figures” evidence of the need for housing to take greater national priority.
Edinburgh City Council paid out the most, with figures recording a total of almost £192m. Payments to private providers totalled just over £145m.
This included substantial payments to private companies and landlords.
One company received at least £16.8m over the five years. Council chiefs said the local authority was facing “enormous challenges” due to escalating housing costs.
Glasgow recorded the second biggest figure with a total of £126m.
It spent over £10m on hotel and B&B provision in the period. North Lanarkshire, Fife and Aberdeen City were also amongst the top five in terms of spend.
Jon Sparkes, chair of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping action group, and chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: “We need to make sure that public money is being used as effectively as possible.
“Clearly funding landlords to provide poor quality accommodation in the private sector is not good for the people housed there or for the public purse.”
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, added: “Successive governments in London and Edinburgh have failed to fix our broken housing system.”