Scotland's councils have spent an 'outrageous' £720m of public money on placing the homeless in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hotels over the last five years because of the housing shortage, it can be revealed.

According to estimates based on council returns the cost to the public purse has nearly doubled since before the pandemic and despite six-year old legislation which was meant to curb homelessness, cut the use of temporary accommodation and rapidly rehouse people.

The costs of putting people in housing limbo eclipse the real terms £570m cut to the Scottish Government affordable homes budget over the past three years.

The spend would have been enough to provide more than 3800 permanent affordable homes for the tens of thousands that are currently on local authority housing waiting lists.

In 2018 the Scottish Government launched a plan that they said would "end homelessness by responding quickly and effectively when it happens".

Since then councils have been required to have a rapid rehousing plan to cut the time spent in temporary accommodation to a minimum.

But The Herald can reveal that the estimates show that the cost of putting homeless families and children in temporary accommodation, because there is not enough settled homes has been soaring ever since.

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It was running at over £190m in 2023, a rise of nearly £30m (18%) from the previous year. In 2019 the cost was at just over £100m.

Scotland's biggest city, Glasgow tops the costs table with a £54.526m spend in 2023, nearly twice as much as the pre-Covid year of 2019 when costs were at £27m.

In Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, the cost of placing families in temporary housing has trebled from £16.746m in 2019 to £48.524m last year.

It comes as The Herald today revealed that every day 50 Scots children are being hit by homelessness while the numbers languishing in halfway house temporary accommodation because they cannot be found settled homes has more than trebled in 20 years.

Housing charity Shelter Scotland said thousands of children had been "badly let down by a broken system".

They say they have been supporting families who have been stuck in hotel rooms for months in some cases, with children having to share beds with siblings and parents or sleep on sofas, unable to eat a proper meal because there are no cooking facilities.

It said: "The continuing housing emergency is a result of poor choices made by every level of government over a period of decades. Politicians know the solutions; countless panels, committees and working groups have made them clear over the years. What is missing now is the political will to deliver them. "

National tenants' union Living Rent said: "It is beyond belief that the Scottish government is completely failing to reverse the real term cuts to affordable housing whilst it continues to spend huge amounts of money on temporary accommodation."

And the Scottish Tenants' Organisation said of the temporary housing costs: "It is an outrage which cannot be justified under any circumstances.

"This policy has to stop as instead we need to focus on spending hundreds of millions of pounds on building permanent homes alongside retrofitting thousands of empty homes for the homeless. This is only road we must travel."

The Scottish Government's affordable homes budget has taken a cumulative hit of over £280m over the past three years without taking inflation into account - based against the 2021/22 allocation of £779.776m - despite a pledge by outgoing First Minister Humza Yousaf of a £80m uplift for affordable housing over the next two years.

Housing campaigners have been staggered by a £196.08m (26%) cut to the budget in the 2024/25 alone, without taking into account inflation, with the spending plans set at £555.862m before an extra £40m was promised by Mr Yousaf.

If the budget had kept up with inflation since 2021/22 in 2024/25, the spending plans would have been at £958.32m.

When inflation has been taken into account, instead of getting £2.631bn over the three years - the affordable homes budget is at £2.058bn - a drop of £573m.

A Scottish Government housing emergency declaration was made by social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville in May during a Labour-led debate at Holyrood and ministers have cited cuts to its block grant by the UK Government, inflation and labour shortages linked to Brexit for the situation.

But UK ministers said that the Scottish government receives about 25% more funding from Whitehall than other parts of the UK.

Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland director said there was a "palpable sense of outrage and dismay" when the Scottish Government "brutally cut" the funding for social housing and she said the consequences are "entirely predictable".

Alison Watson

"Social housing delivery is slowing to a crawl, which inevitably means even more children being stuck in temporary accommodation for ever increasing periods of time," she said.

"It can be easy to imagine that because they have a roof over their head there is no problem, but being trapped in temporary accommodation for an extended period can have devastating effects on a child’s life.

"We’ve seen children struggling at school because they have to stay somewhere with nowhere for them to do their homework in peace, children wracked with anxiety because they don’t know when they’ll be forced to move to yet another temporary placement, and children wrenched out of their social circles when moved into accommodation outwith their established communities."

The Scottish Government's 2018 ending homelessness and rough sleeping action plan pledged to "end homelessness by prioritising settled housing for all".

At that point there were 10,933 households in temporary accommodation in Scotland. According to official data, in September, 2023 there were 15,625.

Ms Watson added: "What is so frustrating about this situation is there is no mystery to it; the causes and solutions are both known. Decades of underinvestment in social homes has undermined the housing system, so when families enter temporary accommodation there simply are not the social homes available to give children the stability and security they so desperately need. "Only the Scottish Government can decide what resources are allocated to housing.

"The First Minister tells us often that his guiding mission is to end child poverty. Put simply he will fail if he is not willing to invest his political capital and government funding into tackling child homelessness."

Aditi Jehangir, chairman of Living Rent added: "The government failure to dedicate funding to social housing is not only exacerbating a housing emergency, it makes no financial sense.

"Being stuck in temporary accommodation is insecure, impermanent and no way to house often vulnerable people. All of Scotland’s tenants deserve the safety and security of long term social housing. The government clearly has the money, it now needs to invest it in social housing.

"It’s time this government put its money where its mouth is. It needs to build more social housing and see councils given the power to buy back empty properties. But urgently, we need a comprehensive system of rent controls that bring rents down so that people aren't driven into temporary accommodation by unaffordable rents in the first place."

 The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities was approached for comment.