Number of homeless in unsuitable accommodation soars



The number of homeless households in hostel accommodation has increased by 43% since 2010, a report by Heriot-Watt academics has found.

The report examines local authorities' use of temporary accommodation in Scotland.

Close to a third of homeless households are temporarily housed in either B&B or hostel accommodation according to the most recent figures, where concerns about the quality and appropriateness of temporary accommodation are most severe.

Experts warn that young or vulnerable people, and those with complex needs fare particularly badly in these types of congregate accommodation, where they may not be able to access the support they need and can be at risk of harm.

The report also found that the length of time people are spending in temporary accommodation (TA) is increasing, while 'unhelpfully high' rents are impacting on households' ability to continue or move into work.

Transforming temporary accommodation in Scotland requires a suite of measures that reduce the number of people who need it by preventing homelessness.

Dr Beth Watts Heriot-Watt University

The report, which was commissioned by Edinburgh-based social enterprise, Social Bite, for the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG)* identifies a series of strategies that can be used to transform the use of TA. These have informed the recommendations made by HARSAG to Scottish Government, which have been accepted in principle by Mr Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government and Housing.

Key findings

  • The number of households living in TA doubled between 2003 and 2010, and has remained high ever since, with over 10,000 people living in TA in Scotland on any one night.
  • Key informants who took part in the study described the challenges local authorities face rehousing those experiencing homelessness given Scotland's strong legal safety for homeless people and difficulties accessing suitable settled housing.
  • Some local authorities have seen substantial and sustained growth in TA use from 2003 onwards. Pressured areas include Edinburgh, East Lothian, Shetland, Dundee, Aberdeen and East Renfrewshire
  • The scale and nature of TA used across Scotland varies greatly. While 18 of Scotland's 32 local authorities do not use B&B accommodation at all, in Edinburgh over a third of homeless households are temporarily accommodated in B&Bs
  • Some local authorities use hostels to accommodate none or only a small proportion of those who are homeless, others like Perth and Kinross and Dundee accommodate over a half of those in TA in hostels.
  • Single people and couples without children spend longer in B&Bs and, in particular, hostels.
  • In some local authorities, the average length of stay for single people in hostels exceeds 200 days.
  • Families with children tend to stay in TA for the longest periods, mainly in temporary houses or flats provided by the council or a housing association.

The report also found that current TA funding regimes are inflexible and complicated. TA rents are considered to be 'unhelpfully high' which impacts on households' ability to continue or move into work. The variation in TA costs across local authority areas also raises concerns of equity and fairness. TA funding mechanisms make it hard for local authorities to provide tailored, personalised and flexible support to those residing in it.

Commenting on the report's findings, Josh LittleJohn, co-founder of Social Bite and member of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, said: " If we are to work towards an end to homelessness then we must transform the temporary accommodation system where many of our most vulnerable people are forced to live. We know all too well from our experience of working with homeless people that when someone lives in the 'homelessness system' of hostels and B&Bs for a significant period of time, they become increasing marginalised, stigmatised and mental health challenges can worsen.

“Social Bite was delighted to commission this important piece of academic work which helps give a roadmap to transforming the homelessness temporary accommodation system for local and national government and we commend the Housing Minister for embracing the recommendations that this study helped to shape." 


Dr Beth Watts from Heriot-Watt University co-authored the report. She said: “Transforming temporary accommodation in Scotland requires a suite of measures that reduce the number of people who need temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness, increasing the flow of people through temporary accommodation by ensuring they have access to the right support and appropriate move-on options, and focusing on increasing the quality and suitability of the temporary accommodation that is used. This is a much bigger challenge in some areas than others given housing market pressures and the numbers in housing need. National leadership needs to be combined with a flexible approach that is responsive to local challenges.”

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of national homelessness charity Crisis, and Chair of the Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group, said: “This report provides key evidence on the way temporary accommodation is used across Scotland and was crucial for the Action Group in identifying the interventions required to transform the use of temporary accommodation.


“Temporary accommodation is not a housing solution, it is an emergency measure which should only be used while permanent housing is sought. When it is used, there should be the necessary support available for each person, the quality should be of at least a minimum enforceable standard and where basic provisions are not met then people should not have to stay for more than 7 days. Robust evidence is crucial to making the case for change and without doubt the depth of knowledge provided by this study was integral in the Scottish Government accepting all of the Action Group recommendations in principle.”


Temporary Accommodation in Scotland: Interim Report was co-authored by Mandy Littlewood, Beth Watts, and Janice Blenkinsopp of the Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University.

The interim report was based on a review of existing evidence; qualitative interview with 16 expert key informants; and analysis of national statistics on temporary accommodation type and usage.

A further report, due to be published in the autumn, will provide primary qualitative evidence on homeless households' experiences of TA, and how local authorities manage TA provision, in six case study Local Authority areas.