By Ashley Campbell, CIH Scotland’s policy and practice manager

EVERY night, almost 11,000 households are living in temporary accommodation across Scotland including 6,795 children. The average length of stay has increased in recent years and is now 180 days, but some live in limbo for much longer. Homelessness is often associated with urban areas but during 2018/19, Shetland recorded one of the longest average stays in temporary accommodation at 325 days, a reflection of the lack of permanent, affordable homes available in some of our rural and island communities.

While living in temporary accommodation for any length of time is not ideal, some of the homes used are good quality furnished flats and the only difference between them and a permanent home is the lack of a secure tenancy. Unfortunately, where demand outstrips supply, too many people are still ending up in bed and breakfasts and hostels.

During 2018/19, there were 620 recorded breaches of the Unsuitable Accommodation Order in Scotland which limits the amount of time that pregnant women and families with children can stay in “unsuitable” accommodation to seven days. Unsuitable accommodation often lacks basic features such as somewhere to cook, a living room or a place for children to do their homework. Residents may have their own room but share a bathroom.

We know that poor quality temporary accommodation is bad for people’s health and wellbeing and stifles potential. Having somewhere safe and permanent to call home is one of the most basic and fundamental of human needs. Lack of a home can cause stress and anxiety, moving into temporary accommodation can cost people their jobs and affect children’s performance at school. As well as the human cost, temporary accommodation comes with an astonishing financial cost.

The average cost of a temporary furnished flat in Scotland is £318.94 per week but depending on the location, type of accommodation and whether support services are provided, can cost up to £494.38. The cost of emergency provision has been recorded at up to £1,370 per week.

Thankfully it has been acknowledged that these costs are not sustainable. This level of rent can trap people on benefits and prevent them from taking a job or going into education because they can’t afford housing costs if their benefits are reduced. There will always be a need for some temporary accommodation to support people in emergency circumstances but its use should be as rare as possible.

Councils have set out their plans for transforming the way they support people who do become homeless. However, this will not happen overnight and local authorities will need financial support to deliver these changes.

In the meantime, we support the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce minimum standards for temporary accommodation based on a set of standards developed by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Shelter Scotland in 2011. The standards we developed were by no means radical. They included recommendations such as having access to facilities to cook and for landlords and staff to give notice before entering someone’s home or bedroom – standards so basic it begs the question: why do we still allow anyone to live without these?

As the Scottish Government consults on a range of changes to homelessness services, on a new vision for housing to 2040 and how human rights can be embedded in legislation, now is the time to make sure these changes amount to more than just words. We need to make sure that visions and plans are underpinned by funding for homes and support services. There is no point having a human right to a warm, secure, affordable home if that home doesn’t exist.