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by Margaret Taylor
31 January 2023
Homeless applications soar to highest-ever level amid cost-of-living crisis

Homeless applications soar to highest-ever level amid cost-of-living crisis

There has been a marked increase in homelessness in Scotland, with Scottish Government figures indicating that the system is struggling to keep up with the number of applications it receives.

Figures released today show that at the end of September last year the number of open homeless applications had rocketed to 28,944, marking an increase of 11 per cent from the same point the previous year and representing the highest figure since records began in 2002.

The number of homelessness applications received during the six months to the end of September was up by six per cent to just over 19,000 while the number of households living in temporary accommodation nudged up by one per cent to 14,458.

There was a sharp increase in the number of children being housed in temporary accommodation year-on-year, up 10 per cent to 9,130, while the number of people reporting sleeping rough in the three months prior to making a homelessness application rose by six per cent to 1,184.

According to Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) the figures, which are compiled by the Scottish Government's chief statistician using numbers provided by local authorities, are likely to represent the “tip of the iceberg”, with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis forcing more and more families into financial hardship.

“This is the horrifying impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the housing emergency,” said CAS spokesperson Aoife Deery.

“There is a serious risk these figures are the tip of the iceberg, as people can’t keep up with essential spending.

“Across the Citizens Advice network we have seen that advice on actual homelessness has been growing as a proportion of housing advice for the past few months.

“In fact, homelessness advice in December 2022 was up 34 per cent from December 2021 as a proportion of all homelessness advice.

“We have also seen growing demand for online advice about rent increases, despite rent freeze legislation, and huge demand for online advice around mortgages.”

According to the government, much of the increase in the figures can be put down to councils working through backlogs that were created when services shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The number of homelessness applications reduced in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, where there were changes in service use, and measures such as temporary emergency Covid-19 legislation, a temporary ban on home repossessions and mortgage payment deferrals to protect renters and home owners,” a report from the chief statistician said.

“In the last two years, the number of homelessness applications has been rising and now exceeds those recorded before the pandemic. The number of households assessed as homeless, however, while following a similar trend, is still slightly below pre-pandemic figures.”

It continued: “The increase in open applications and temporary accommodation are also likely the result of the backlog of cases that built up during Covid-19 and the ongoing cost and supply issues for materials and lack of tradespeople which are required to provide settled accommodation.”

Despite this, Crisis chief executive Matt Downie said the figures show that “the Scottish homelessness system is bursting at the seams”.

“The pandemic saw extraordinary progress in tackling rough sleeping, but, as these figures show, Scotland is now returning to the long-term trend of ever-growing numbers of people needing assistance,” he said.

“The fact there are now nearly 10,000 children living in temporary accommodation in Scotland should shame us all. They are being robbed of a childhood, when their homelessness could have been prevented. This is an injustice.

“Numbers in the system are now at the highest since records began. It is clear we need to act now to stop more people from appearing as numbers in next year’s statistics. That’s why we welcome confirmation the upcoming housing bill will include measures to strengthen homelessness prevention in Scotland.”

Last week housing minister Shona Robison told the Scottish Parliament that it is “a national priority of the Scottish Government to tackle homelessness, end rough sleeping and transform temporary housing”.

She noted that it is up to local authorities to deal with homelessness and provide temporary and settled accommodation but said the government “will introduce prevention duties” in its forthcoming housing bill and will also introduce a right to housing in its planned human rights legislation.

“Our proposals for a human rights bill will seek to incorporate the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing, as far as that is possible within devolved competence,” she said.

“Ensuring that people are aware of their rights and when to exercise them is an important part of building the Scotland that we want.”

On the growing use of temporary accommodation Robison noted that a taskforce chaired by Shelter Scotland and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers is due to report next month, when it will “make recommendations on homelessness services, social housing and managing the current stock”.

“The group will propose innovative ways in which to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation and the length of time that households spend in it,” she said.

“That will enable us to support the areas that have challenges and ensure that they can learn from others that have made progress.”

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