CHIEF of Police Scotland Sir Stephen House and hundreds of his fellow officers have shared more than £10 million in housing payments at the same time as frontline jobs have been axed.

The top-ups have included more than £500,000 to senior officers in Police Scotland to help them pay the rent and mortgages on their homes.

Critics last night said the perk, particularly for top officers, was "unfair", "grossly insensitive" and questionable.

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Last year's abolition of the old territorial forces to make way for Police Scotland was defended as a way of making public-sector savings.

However, the advent of the new single force was followed by more brutal cuts, with 800 civilian staff made redundant and numerous control rooms slated for closure.

Despite the cuts, police have held on to a little-known perk that disproportionately benefits older officers.

Before September 1994, police were given a housing or rent allowance. The then Tory government axed the payment for new starts but kept the system in place for existing beneficiaries.

The payment can be up to £3000 a year for beat cops and more for chief constables.

According to figures released by Police Scotland, over £10.8m has been paid in housing and rent allowances by the force since April.

One insider said the £10.8m could have saved up to half of the 800 police staff jobs.

House, who earns more than £200,000 a year, shared £28,260 in top-ups with three deputy chief constables and five assistant chiefs.

Lower down the pecking order, 178 superintendents and chief superintendents shared £516,268, which averaged £2900 apiece. Hundreds more personnel, including constables, pocketed the bulk of the cash.

One police source said there was "a strong case" for stripping senior officers of the extra cash, but keeping it in place for constables who depended on it.

The figures come two months after it emerged that assistant chief constables (ACCs) had pocketed pay rises of more than £10,000.

The ACCs were on between £91,000 and £107,000 a year, a sum that has risen to a fixed annual salary of £115,000.

A spokesman for the trade union Unison, which represents civilian police staff, said: "These payments are grossly insensitive. The £10.8m in rent and housing allowances could have saved hundreds of support staff jobs this financial year and could have been used in control centres and call centres. The Police Service of Scotland needs to decide where its priorities lie. Redundancy or rent? Closures or housing allowances?"

Graeme Pearson, a former top police officer who is now Scottish Labour's Justice spokesman, said: "The rank and file will find it difficult to understand why the top earners are still getting additional allowances on top of their salaries. At a time when support staff are being cut, these allowances for senior police officers don't seem to be in tune with what is happening across the rest of the force."

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, said: "You have to question this level of subsidy against a backdrop of a painful and unnecessary centralisation. It seems unfair on those who joined after 1994 and somewhat pointless to top up the already generous salaries of the senior ranks.

"Police officers on lower salaries may depend on this to enable them to live in Lothian. It would be more equitable to redirect the funds received by very senior officers to those on lower pay grades."

A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: "All UK officers employed prior to 1994 and, irrespective of rank, as part of the terms and conditions of their employment, receive housing allowance."