More than half of Scotland's 32 councils have admitted they are failing to meet legal requirements to deal with the homelessness crisis in Scotland, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

A red flag assessment carried out by the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO) which lays bare the state of the nation in dealing with the homeless, expresses concern that the Scottish Government has not declared a housing emergency.

The representative body for local authority housing in Scotland, in research carried out in November, said that the results show "widespread deterioration since May this year and a significant reduction in confidence when compared with the most challenging periods during the pandemic".

A traffic light system set out for the study found that 19 out of the 32 Scottish councils had registered a red flag on at least one of three key aspects of their services meaning they were "struggling to cope with regular statutory breaches". In November 2021 there were just five.

Some 12 out of the 32 councils (37.5%) assessed all key aspects of their service as “red”. In November 2021, there were just two.

READ MORE: FM urged to act as starts on affordable homes slump to eight year low

The current triple red flag authorities are Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.

A further three (9.75%) of councils reported red flags on two out of three - Dundee, South Lanarkshire and Stirling.

Only Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, covering the Western Isles said it was confident of meeting all its duties all the time.

The three key aspects surveyed involved the supply of suitable and useable temporary accommodation in the light of current demand, the ability to meet the legal requirements to not place the homeless in 'unsuitable' homes and the ability to supply permanent lets.

The Herald:

Glasgow City Council made a symbolic housing emergency declaration earlier this month in the wake of concerns over social unrest following moves to accelerate the clearance of a backlog of asylum claims by the Home Office. Edinburgh and Argyll and Bute councils have also declared housing emergencies.

Glasgow City Council has been considering legal action against the Home Office as it fears it will breach the law through being unable to cope with the backlog.

The city cited "unprecedented pressures" after the Home Office planned to make around 2,500 batched asylum decisions in Glasgow by the end of this year, which the council would cost them more than £53m.

The SNP-led council is expecting around 2500 decisions on refugee status to be made by the end of this year, with some 1,800 expected to have leave to remain, which they say will place the "already stretched Homelessness Service under unprecedented pressure".

Predictions of a potential rise in rough sleepers in the city are coming true with latest official data showing and almost doubling of the number of people who said they slept rough before presenting as homeless.

In November, the number of homeless people who said they had slept rough before contacting the council shot up by 87% in three months - from 149 in September to 279 in November.

In February, the Herald revealed that the housing regulator was warning of an "emerging risk of systematic failure" in local authority homelessness services as some councils were finding it increasingly difficult to meet the challenges of providing services for those who are homeless and meet their statutory duties.

And it said tackling the challenges may need to be a "principal priority" for the coming period for the Scottish Government, councils and others working to meet the needs of people who are homeless.

The association, the representative organisation for senior housing and homelessness professionals working in Scotland’s councils and health and social care partnerships. says that those fears have now become a reality.

They say: "Perhaps more worrying it is also clear that there is very little resilience left in any part of the system. Many councils will face significant difficulties if they are called to respond on a civil contingencies basis to any emergency that results in people being forced from their homes.

"The risks over the winter period arising from climate change, the situations in Ukraine and the Middle East and the Home Office’s plans to process and approve hundreds of asylum applications over the coming months are significant.

"Taking all these elements into account our view is that the risk that the Scottish Housing Regulator feared back in February has now become a reality. 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 and our housing system is failing to meet that most basic of needs a warm dry affordable home...."

The analysis said that while councils had recognised the "systemic nature of this challenge by declaring a housing emergency" they association noted "with some disappointment that when it considered the same question the Scottish Parliament did not agree".

The Scottish Government failed to declare a housing and homelessness emergency after shutting a motion down at the Scottish Parliament at the end of last month.

The Herald: We need to build affordable homes for young people. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

The association said: "This is not a problem that has arisen over night. The causes of homelessness are complex, they include domestic abuse, the lack of security of tenure of private sector tenants and the failure of health and support services for those struggling with drugs, alcohol and their mental health. But for many it is simply the cost of adequate housing that prevents them from securing the home that they need. In too many areas the supply of social housing is simple inadequate and the alternatives too expensive.

Shelter Scotland said it was "proof that Scotland’s housing and homelessness system is fundamentally broken and in need or emergency financial support that currently is not forthcoming from those in Government". The housing rights charity added: Whilst they fail to act people’s lives are being harmed."

Tenants' rights group Living Rent said the analysis should "shock our politicians into action".

Eilidh Keay, a Living Rent spokesman said: "Scotland has the resources to stop this: no one should be left on the streets.

"The failure across the board to provide affordable housing, both long and short term, is pouring petrol on to Scotland’s homelessness crisis.

"The Scottish government needs to declare a housing emergency, provide adequate funding to build new homes and regulate the private sector to ensure it provides affordable homes and ensure that no one faces homelessness.

"Housing should be a right not a luxury and the Scottish government has it within its powers to provide greater funding to councils and to introduce rent controls, so that we can all afford our homes."

ALACHO has joined coalition of groups including Shelter, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities , Homeless Network Scotland, Crisis and the Chartered Institute Of Housing to call on the Scottish Government to take long term action to address the current crisis including increasing investment in building and buying additional social rented homes and providng direct support to councils to expand their supply of suitable temporary accommodation and "rebuild resilience in the system".

The Herald:

They also want a government commitment to fully fund the provisions of a proposed new homeless prevention duty.

Tony Cain, ALACHO policy manager says in the analysis which has been sent to ministers: "These actions will not solve the problem over night nor are they all that is required.

"They are the minimum that must be done to prevent the return of large-scale rough sleeping to our towns and cities and to address the harm that homelessness and insecure housing is doing to many vulnerable people including the thousands of children now living without permanent secure homes.

"The lack of resilience, the inability of local services to respond to any significant unanticipated pressure on services, for example flooding, extreme cold weather events or other emergency represents a significant risk this winter.

"Government is about choices, government during hard times is about hard choices. All Scotland’s councils are making those choices every day. The sector wide ambition to end homelessness announced with the Ending Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan in 2018 is as far from being achieved as it ever was. "The first essential step is to recognise the scale of the crisis, only a step change in the supply of social housing will make the difference."

The Herald on Sunday previously revealed that councils across Scotland breached the law that prevents the homeless being placed in 'unsuitable' temporary accommodation more than 11,000 times over a year-and-a-half.

The Unsuitable Accommodation Order is legally binding and ensures that people have access to decent living accommodation.

Details gathered from local authorities show that the rate of breaches shot up from an average of nearly 540 per month last year to around 800-a-month so far this year.

There were nearly 6500 breaches in 2022 and in the first half of this year there were over 4800 infringements.

In 2019, the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that breaches "should not be tolerated" and said it would consider introducing sanctions on those councils that fail to comply as part of plans to "transform temporary accommodation".

At that point there were just 750 breaches in a year-and-a-half, a fraction of the numbers currently being reported.

A property is deemed unsuitable if it does not meet certain criteria, for example it is not wind and watertight, does not meet minimum safety standards or lacks adequate bedrooms, toilet and personal washing facilities.

Experts say that the order seeks to prevent the long-term use of bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels, hostels and shelters.

Local authorities are in breach when placing a homeless household in accommodation not meeting the requirements of the order for more than seven days.

The Scottish Government extended the Unsuitable Accommodation Order to all households from May, 2020 - which is seen as one reason for a rise in breaches. The law previously applied only when housing pregnant women or families with children.

Meanwhile, the number of new affordable homes to rent being started for the nation's most vulnerable in Scotland slumped to the lowest annual level since records began.

There were just under 3300 new home build starts in the social sector led by both housing associations and local authorities in the year to the end of September 2023 - a 40% slump on the previous year when there were 5535 and the lowest return in over 25 years.

It is believed to have fuelled the drop in the overall number of affordable homes to the lowest annual level for eight years.

In its programme for government in September 2021 the Scottish Government set a target to deliver over 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70% of these being for social rent. Ministers said this would be supported with a total taxpayer investment of £18bn and that it would support up to 15,000 jobs.

But Scotland has been averaging 633 affordable housing starts a month since setting that target. To meet a 110,000 homes target they have to deliver at an average of 894 homes a month.

Affordable home starts in the past six months are at their lowest since the start of quarterly records in 2019 with 2477 starting in the six months to September 30 - a 35% drop on the previous six month period and a 21% slump on the same period last year.

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: “We recognise these are exceptionally challenging times and we are working with local authorities to ensure no one is turned away when they need help.

“Despite cuts to our budget from the UK Government, we are providing councils with £30.5 million annually for their work to prevent homelessness and £100 million from our multi-year Ending Homelessness Together fund, in addition to funding through the local government settlement. 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 £60 million 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 £752 million this year.”