Thousands trapped in B&Bs in Scottish homelessness crisis

published on 10 Mar 2021

Thousands of people will be trapped in unsuitable accommodation like bed and breakfasts unless the Scottish Government helps local authorities clear the ‘bottleneck’, warns The Salvation Army.

A new report by the church and charity examined whether local authorities were able to cope with rising levels of homelessness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that people are getting stuck in places like bed and breakfasts because there is insufficient ‘move on’ accommodation available to resource ‘rapid rehousing’ plans.

And as the impact of the pandemic causes more people to lose their homes, local authorities are facing huge temporary accommodation bills stretching their budgets to breaking point.

Living in temporary accommodation like a B&B can start to eat away at your physical and mental health. Spending long periods without anywhere to cook, wash or properly relax makes it very difficult to hold a job down, keep in good physical health and start rebuilding your life.
Malcolm Page, Assistant Director of Homelessness Services for The Salvation Army

Malcolm continued, saying; “These are places that are meant to be a short-term fix to prevent people from sleeping on the streets, not as long-term solutions. Bed and breakfast type accommodation is often provided without the essential support we believe is required to address the deep-rooted and often complex issues that result in people becoming homeless.

“We welcome the work being done by the Scottish Government through its Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan and we recognise that it has invested in homelessness services over the years. However, we are not only making a moral argument, we are also making a dire financial prediction. Unless local authorities are able to invest in ‘move on’ accommodation through their rapid rehousing transition plans, there is just nowhere for people to go and the temporary accommodation bill will significantly increase.”

The Salvation Army is one of the biggest providers of homelessness services in Scotland. Its report surveyed two thirds of Scotland’s local authorities and found:

  • There is a black hole in local authorities’ homelessness budgets of £34m across Scotland.
  • 60% of local authorities reported seeing an increase in demand for homelessness support services as a result of COVID-19.
  • Councils are forced to spend their limited budgets on temporary accommodation which means they have less money to invest in long-term housing. One local authority reported having to use bed and breakfasts "for the first time in eight years" following the pandemic.  
  • How money is allocated to local authorities for the implementation of ‘rapid rehousing’ policies is not based on local need. For example, funding does not take into account the difference between urban and rural areas and the complex needs of people needing housing and support.

Although The Salvation Army is concerned we are yet to see the full extent of the pandemic on homelessness levels, the report does set out some clear ways the Government can act to stem the crisis. In particular, the church and charity is calling for:

  • The way the Scottish Government calculates homelessness funding for ‘rapid rehousing’ policies must change.  Currently it is mainly based on the number of homelessness applications received over the last five years. This ignores important measures like the complexity of people’s needs and the differences between available housing in urban and rural areas.
  • There should be an immediate investment to match the scale of the crisis Scotland is facing. Funding and homelessness levels have been static for six years but the impact of the pandemic will see homelessness spike and the Government will fail to meet all the ambitious aims set in the Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan.
  • There should be a specific capital investment programme to increase housing for homeless people. This will help to find permanent housing for people currently living in emergency accommodation and allow local authorities to continue implementing their rapid rehousing transition plans.

Malcom continued: “Through our frontline work, we are seeing the effects of the pandemic on people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes, coming to our food banks and drop-ins. Without significant further funding in specialist housing-led provision and support services, we are concerned thousands more will become trapped in a cycle of homelessness and unsuitable accommodation.”

Notes to Editors

The report, Homelessness in Scotland, was produced by researchers commissioned by The Salvation to explore whether Scottish local authorities have enough money to meet the needs of their homelessness population. The research engaged with 63% (20/32) of all Scottish local authorities and eight third-sector providers of homelessness services.

Key finds of the report:

  • Due to the lack of detailed publicly available data it’s almost impossible to tell how effective current investment is including for ‘rapid rehousing’ policies.
  • There appear to be shortfalls in certain areas of investment. For example, in 2020/21, the Scottish Government allocated approx. £87 million for expenditure on homelessness. However, in 2020/21, local authorities in Scotland spent approx. £121 million on homelessness services.
  • Of the 10 local authorities who reported high levels of demand pre-pandemic, 40% did not believe they had the capacity of resourcers to meet this demand, even without the anticipated surge in homelessness, post pandemic.
  • Many local authorities report an increase in people with complex needs with 56% of authorities seeing an increase in demand from young people.

Scottish Report on Homelessness

A new report by The Salvation Army which examines whether Scottish local authorities were able to cope with rising levels of homelessness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the report