The housing watchdog has identified a growing “systemic failure” in council services for the homelessness just days after an SNP minister denied there was a housing emergency.

Drawing on recent statistics and feedback from councils, the independent Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) said there was now a “systemic failure in the delivery of services to people experiencing homelessness in some local authorities and an immediate risk in others”.

It said 14 of Scotland’s 32 councils had admitted they did not always fully comply with their statutory duties to the homeless, including providing suitable temporary accommodation. 

A separate survey by the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (Alacho) last month found 12 councils unable to deliver on three key services - temporary accommodation,  suitable accommodation, and permanent lets.

A further three councils reported they could not deliver on two of these.

Three Scottish councils - Argyll & Bute, Edinburgh and Glasgow - have declared a “housing emergency” since June because of a lack of suitable accommodation in their area.

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Two weeks ago, Scottish Labour used a Holyrood debate to argue that Scotland as a whole was experiencing a housing emergency, but the Scottish Government denied it.

Backed by the Greens, SNP housing minister Paul McLennan changed the wording to “facing significant pressures with homelessness and temporary accommodation”.

In a review of homelessness services in February, the SHR warned there was “an emerging risk” of systemic failure as councils struggled to cope with rising demand.

Official figures later revealed a 9% rise in homeless applications last year to 39,000, a 9% rise in homeless households with children to a record 9,595, and a continued rise in the time homeless families are having to spend in temporary accommodation.

In addition, some councils told the SHR they regularly failed to meet their statutory duties to the homeless and were planning future services on the assumption this would continue.

The SHR has now updated its February review, concluding its fears have come to pass.

SHR chief executive Michael Cameron said: “Our judgement is that the demands on some councils now exceed their capacity to respond and in others it soon will. 

“We therefore take the view that there is systemic failure in the delivery of services to people experiencing homelessness in some local authorities and an immediate risk in others.

“All councils should continue best efforts to respond to the challenges and meet their statutory obligations. We will engage with the councils which we believe are experiencing systemic failure. And we are ready to work with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to identify and implement actions that will address the acute issues in temporary and permanent accommodation for people who are homeless.”

A report circulated by Alacho to its members said there was “very little resilience left in any part of the system”, with Home Office plans to process and approve hundreds of asylum applications in the coming months set to add to demand.

It said: “Across Scotland, in our cities, towns and rural communities, councils can no longer be sure that they can meet the needs of homeless people. 

“Rough sleeping is on the rise, our housing system is failing to meet that most basic of needs, a warm dry affordable home, for an increasing number of households.

“This is not a problem that can be resolved by better policy or improved practice.   

“Our view is that the challenges facing most of the sector are systemic, driven by problems in the wider housing system and economy.  The most significant of these is a chronic shortage of social housing across much of Scotland.”

Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said: “Shelter Scotland has been warning of this housing emergency since August last year. 

“Argyll and Bute declared a housing emergency in June. The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives declared a housing emergency in July.

“Homelessness levels hit new records in August. City of Edinburgh Council declared a housing emergency in November, closely followed by Glasgow. 

“Despite the overwhelming evidence, Scottish Government Ministers voted down attempts in Parliament to declare an emergency and continue to deny the scale of the crisis. 

“Now the Scottish Housing Regulator says their fears of systemic failure are a reality and housing leaders in 12 local authorities confirm they are not able to meet their legal duties.

“It seems the only people who do not agree that this is a housing emergency are the ministers in the Scottish Government. The implications of local services being in systemic failure is more children trapped in temporary accommodation, more people rough sleeping and more local authorities unable to cope.”

Scottish Labour Housing spokesperson Mark Griffin said “The SNP-Green government is in denial about the housing emergency unfolding in Scotland, but their own Housing Regulator is sounding the alarm.

“Councils are at breaking point after years of brutal budget cuts by the SNP and the Greens, and some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland are paying the price. 

“This must be a wake-up call for our out-of-touch government to recognise the scale of this crisis and take urgent action to address it.”

Sean Clerkin of the Scottish Tenants Organisation said: “This bombshell from the SHR  flies in the face of Scottish Government denials that there is a housing and homeless emergency.

“The regulator additionally states that other councils in Scotland are in immediate peril of systemic failure in providing services to the homeless.

“We need an action plan now for Scotland that should include recalibrating the £3.5 billion allocated to building 110,000 affordable homes by 2032.

“Front-loading some of this money could help build tens of thousands of social rented homes, retrofit and renovate some of the 43,000 empty homes in Scotland and repurpose empty council buildings and office space into settled accommodation for homeless people.

“We just need political leadership to house our most vulnerable citizens in Scotland.”

Liberal Democrat MSP  Willie Rennie said: “Within days of the SNP and Greens ignoring the pleas of people desperate for a home, the government’s very own housing regulator has publicly and directly shot down their denial of a housing emergency.

" This declaration from the regulator should end the business as usual approach of the government.  

"Homelessness is high, huge numbers of children are in temporary accommodation and construction starts for new social housing have plummeted. The government needs to wake up.”

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: "“The ‘systemic failure’ in council homelessness services – which has left thousands of vulnerable people in temporary accommodation - is all thanks to the SNP’s blatant refusal to prioritise the housing crisis.

“The SNP’s hugely damaging rent control policy has only made matters worse, by decreasing the availability of homes available for rent.

“Local authorities have been completely starved of the essential funding to tackle this situation and it adds more pressure to an already spiralling problem.

“The SNP-Green Government must urgently act by providing more support local authorities to prevent Scotland’s housing crisis from escalating even further.”

Mr McLennan, the housing minister,  said: “Every local authority in Scotland has the legal duty to provide accommodation for anyone facing homelessness and we are working with local authorities to ensure no one is turned away when they need help.

“However, recent decisions by the Home Office to fast track the asylum backlog are poorly thought out and have left local authorities unable to plan – putting many people at risk of rough sleeping and destitution.

“Despite cuts to our budget from the UK Government, we are providing councils with £30.5m annually for their work to prevent homelessness. Separately, we are providing a total of £100m from our multi-year Ending Homelessness Together fund.

“I have also regularly met with representatives from Scotland’s local authorities and have actively engaged with them to find solutions to help address housing pressures in their area.

“We have also committed to invest at least £60m to help local authorities and registered social landlords acquire properties for use as high quality, affordable, permanent homes, as part of our wider Affordable Housing Supply Programme investment of £752m this year.

“We recognise these are exceptionally challenging times and the Scottish Government is absolutely determined to address levels of homelessness and improve the supply of social and affordable housing.”