Our privacy policy has changed.

View policy


Reductions in homelessness across Scotland have stalled

Reductions in homelessness across Scotland have stalled – the Scottish Government’s radical plans must be implemented without delay

Ending homelessness is now a key policy priority for the Scottish Government, but a new state-of-the-nation report, led by Heriot-Watt University on behalf of Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that councils believe progress is at serious risk from UK welfare reform, pressures on local supply and a failure to prioritise prevention.

Whilst rough sleeping and homelessness have remained relatively stable over the past three years’, high numbers of people are remaining stuck in temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfast, revealing blockages in the system that are restricting people’s ability to build a better life and move on from homelessness.

The research identifies a number of challenges relating to welfare reforms, and in particular universal credit which is intended to help prevent people being swept into poverty. Three-quarters of Scottish Councils surveyed said that homelessness in their area will rise as a result of the full roll out of Universal Credit, and many respondents reported difficulties in accessing council and housing association tenancies to assist their homeless clients.

Concerns were also raised about the supply and allocation of social housing as well as the support provided by health and social care partners. The research also showed that while many welcome the leading and progressive intention of the Scottish Government and CoSLA’s new proposals on homelessness [see Note 2], some concerns remain about the long-term housing investments needed to make them a reality, compounded by the challenges posed by the benefits freeze and other Westminster welfare policies [see below for stakeholder comments].

The Homelessness Monitor: Scotland, is an independent study funded by Crisis and JRF and led by Heriot-Watt University, and is the most comprehensive homelessness study of its kind. For the first time in Scotland, the Monitor includes a bespoke survey of Scottish local authorities. A total of 29 of the 32 Scottish councils responded and this evidence was supplemented with in-depth interviews with key respondents in the statutory and voluntary sectors as well as a review of the latest evidence, research and statistics on homelessness in Scotland.

Crisis and JRF welcome the renewed focus on ending homelessness from the Scottish Government, but warned that, as identified in the report, several challenges remain in relation to wider prevention policies. These include sufficient investment in welfare, accessible health provision and reforms to housing policy.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:

“Scotland has long led the way in providing effective solutions to support more people out of homelessness, but there is no question that social and economic pressures are having an impact, with the previous downward trend in people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness now at a halt.
“The Scottish Government has taken significant action, committing to ending homelessness as a top political priority and producing its Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan. However, the views expressed in this report are a timely reminder that for Government’s Action Plan to succeed, wider policy change is needed; including a cross government approach to preventing homelessness and ensuring housing policy is fit for purpose. Furthermore, Scottish Government can play a key role in making the case to Westminster government for much needed investment in Universal Credit.”

Jim McCormick, Associate Director of JRF said:

“As a compassionate country, we share responsibility for ensuring everyone can access a safe and decent home. Low pay, the benefits freeze and a lack of housing options are locking people in poverty, forcing families into temporary accommodation and leaving some facing destitution. This cannot be right.
“Cross government action is needed to make the ambition of finding permanent accommodation quickly a reality for everyone. The UK Government should end the benefits freeze early and end the five week wait for Universal Credit payment. Solving homelessness is rightly seen as a priority in Scotland - but we now need to see concerted action to loosen the grip of poverty which still forces many people into homelessness.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick said:

“The downward trend in homelessness in Scotland has now stalled, and there are far too many people spending far too long in a temporary accommodation system that is not ‘fit for purpose’ in many parts of Scotland. The Scottish Government’s commitment to move forward with the ‘rapid rehousing’ of all homeless people, together with provision of wraparound support for those with complex needs, was widely welcomed by the local authorities we surveyed. But implementation challenges remain, particularly in more rural and high pressure housing market areas.”


Views of councils and key informants in the research:

National key informant:

“I think in terms of the 50,000 homes target, we're all supporting that. My issue… is that that needs to be the same commitment over a period of 20 years, we can't keep looking at new build programmes over five-year periods. We need to look at new build programmes over 20-year horizons.

Local Authority respondent, Clyde Valley:

“We have approx. 3,000 houses with a turnover of 200 houses per year with over 400 homelessness applicants applying each year.”

Local Authority respondent, in a pressured housing market area:

“Housing associations in our area are asking for money in advance which is making it harder for more vulnerable people.”

Local Authority respondent, in a pressured housing market area:

“The LHA caps have made [private] landlords feel they can get more money renting to people who are working and who do not come through our door… Universal Credit and the delays have affected landlord’s willingness to accept clients with housing costs.”

Local Authority respondent, Clyde Valley:

“There are significant barriers to entry [to housing association lets] include Rent in Advance impositions, often with little flexibility, resulting in inability to resolve homelessness. Considerable challenges faced with re-housing those with multiple and complex needs.”

Local Authority respondent, Pressured Area:

“Reducing use of temporary accommodation will be challenging because we have such low turnover of stock to be able to provide permanent accommodation quickly.”


For interview opportunities please contact Lynn.McMath@crisis.org.uk // 0131 209 7725

1) The Homelessness Monitor reports - the Homelessness Monitor: Scotland, is part of a wider series which has been published every year since 2011. This year’s report is the third in the series on Scotland and uses a national survey of councils, statistical analysis, and in-depth interviews to analyse how economic and policy developments impact homelessness. This year's report includes evidence from 29 out 32 Scottish Councils. Crisis, JRF, and Heriot-Watt also produce Homelessness Monitor reports for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To request a copy contact Lynn McMath (details above)

2) The recommendations set out by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and the Local Government and Communities Committee were adopted by the Scottish government and CoSLA in their Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan, published in November 2018, which includes a shift towards housing all homeless people quickly into permanent accommodation.

Key points from Scotland Homelessness Monitor 2019


  • Nearly 29,000 people were found to be legally homeless in Scotland in 2017/18
  • The official numbers of people coming to their council for help with homelessness seem to be declining. However most (8 out of 10) local authority respondents felt that numbers were static or increasing slightly.
  • Rough sleeping appears to be relatively stable over the last three years with the annual number of rough sleepers in 2017 estimated at 5,300 and around 700 sleeping rough on a typical night.
  • There has been a 12% increase in the number of homelessness applications from former social renters over the past three years.
  • A third of local authorities perceive that the ending of private tenancies has been an increasing factor in homelessness, although this is not reflected in official statistics.

Temporary accommodation

  • The numbers in temporary accommodation remain at just under 11,000. Although most temporary accommodation placements are in ordinary social housing, there has been an increase of 12% in the use of B&Bs in the past three years. The number of families in temporary accommodation has increased by 25% in the past three years.

Hidden homelessness

  • There are 236,000 households in Scotland which contain ‘concealed households’, who would live separately if they were able to, or around 10% of Scottish households.
  • In addition, 67,750 households aged 20-34 have been unable to form separate households. The economic crisis and cuts to benefits are likely to be factors in this.

Ending homelessness: everyone’s job

  • The majority (61%) of local authorities said that local Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCP) have made little impact in helping local authorities to prevent homelessness.
  • Many local authorities are finding it difficult to access council and housing tenancies to help resolve homelessness. Even more find it difficult to access tenancies in the private rented sector for their homeless clients.
  • The majority of local authorities expect an increase in homelessness as a result of forthcoming changes to the benefit system
    o Three quarters of local authorities expect the full roll-out of Universal Credit to increase homelessness. 44% felt this impact would be significant.
    o Three quarters felt the new stricter Benefit Cap would lead to an increase in homelessness.
    o The freeze of the rates of other benefits, including Local Housing Allowance, is also expected to have a negative impact on homelessness.

About Crisis
Crisis is the national charity for homeless people. We are determined to end homelessness. We do it person by person and by influencing policies to ensure everyone has a place to call home. For more information visit www.crisis.org.uk.

About Joseph Rowntree Foundation
JRF is an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice. For more information visit www.jrf.org.uk
About Heriot-Watt University

Notes to editors: Heriot-Watt is a specialist, pioneering university with a reputation for innovative research and highly employable graduates. We have approximately 29,000 students at our five main campuses based in Scotland, the UAE and Malaysia, and in over 160 other countries through our distance learning programmes.