PRIVATE tenancies have rocketed since devolution amid fears the property ladder in Scotland is broken.

New figures show the number of private renters rose to 370,000 last year as soaring numbers of young Scots are priced out of buying their own homes.

When Holyrood was launched in 1999, just 120,000 Scots lived in private rented accommodation and the figure has more than trebled since and risen by 20,000 in the past year alone.

It comes amid soaring house prices and tough new rules on mortgage lending which has left many young Scotland’s struggling to get out of the rented sector to buy their own homes.

Critics are now warning of a major housing crisis looming unless tens of thousands of affordable homes are constructed in the next few years.

Graeme Brown, Director of housing charity Shelter Scotland, said: “A major shortage of social housing lies behind some of the rise in private renting, with many tenants forced into housing they wouldn’t live in if they had a real choice.

“We need a significant affordable house-building programme to tackle the shortage and in the meantime private renters need to see improvements in the quality of service they receive.”

Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Graham Simpson added: “It’s never been harder for people to get onto the property ladder, or indeed move up it.

“For some, private renting is exactly what they want to do. But for thousands of others they are stuck in that situation with no prospect of being a homeowner any time soon.

“Only by getting on and building significantly more houses can this problem be solved.”

Scottish Labour’s housing spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “The growth of the private sector means it has taken on a much bigger and more significant role in people’s lives. It should take on the responsibility to match. We must end insecurity for private renters, including the 91,000 Scottish families who now live in the private rented sector, and regulate rents.”

The findings come from the 2016 Scottish Household Survey, which also showed the overall number of homes in Scotland increased from 2.19 million in 1999 to 2.45 million last year - a rise of 11 per cent.

But over the same period, the number of homeowners has slumped, while social housing is at a record low.

This has led to more than 370,000 Scots now privately renting - and are being charged record amounts The average monthly rent for a Scottish tenant in July 2017 averaged £630, up from £607 last year and is at the highest ever level.

According to the survey, the percentage of households who rent privately has grown from 5 per cent in 1999 to 15per cent last year.

Two-fifths of people who are not already on the property ladder think they will never get a foot on the first rung, largely because of the decline in house building and tougher mortgage rules.

Soaring house prices are an added problem, with the average deposit required by first-time buyers now hitting £21,000.

A huge rise in the buy-to-let market has also reduced the number of available smaller properties because these are being snapped up as investments by people who are already homeowners.

The number of owner-occupiers was the same as in 1999 at 61 per cent - down from a high of 66 per cent in 2009.

But the proportion of the population living in council or housing association properties has fallen, dropping from 32 per cent to 23 per cent over the past 17 years.

Average house prices in Scotland have also continued to rise and currently stand at £149,185, an increase of almost 5 per cent from the previous year.

Edinburgh saw the biggest increase in average prices over the past year, with the Capital rising almost 10 per cent to £243,920.

Meanwhile, the average price for property purchased by a first time buyer in July is £120,630 - an increase of 4.1 per cent compared to last year.

This has seen the number of homeowners in Scotland plummet, with 50,000 fewer people owning their own property than in 2008.

Figures show that 1.476million people owned their homes in 2016, compared to 1.522million eight years earlier.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: "We are doing all we can to help people get on or up the housing ladder

“We have also reintroduced council house building, ended the Right to Buy, and have a target to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes during this Parliament, with 35,000 of these for social rent. This ambitious target is being backed by a £3 billion investment.”