‘New approach’ to Edinburgh’s homelessness aims to end use of private B&Bs

A homeless person in Edinburgh. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
A homeless person in Edinburgh. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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Control of temporary homeless accommodation in Edinburgh could be shifted away from private B&Bs as the city draws up a “new approach” to providing homeless people with somewhere to stay.

Labour councillor Mandy Watt will table a motion at tomorrow’s full council meeting, requiring officers to draw up plans for a new model of temporary accommodation for people with low support needs. The report could include “options for investment in council owned property” and “consideration of shared housing”.

The council is set to bring forward proposals for its rapid rehousing transition plan next week, which will outline a strategy to move homeless people into “mainstream, settled accommodation” in order to minimise the use of temporary accommodation.

The council has extended a private sector letting (PSL) strategy, which allows homeless people to temporarily rent a flat, rather than them living in B&B accommodation.

Cllr Watt has blasted public money being handed over to private companies to pay for temporary 
accommodation.

Last month it was revealed that the city council has spent £28.1 million to meet an increased demand for B&B accommodation since 2016. In 2018 alone, the city council spent £11.7m on temporary accommodation for homeless people – including £6.4m to one provider.

Cllr Watt said: “If these companies can no longer provide that service, where would people go? We would not be able to meet a moral and statutory obligation for accommodation for people that are in need of it.

“That £12m that we are spending, we have absolutely nothing to show for it. We have no control of the price, which keeps going up. We just have to keep finding the money from what is a shrinking grant from the Scottish Government. It’s really not the best use of public money. At some point, other services are going to suffer.”

Housing and economy convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, believes “brutal” welfare reforms and the Right to Buy scheme have “decimated” social housing stocks in the Capital – impacting on homelessness.

She added: “Luckily in Edinburgh we’ve had cross party support for the homelessness taskforce. Through the taskforce, and the rapid rehousing transition plan, which will be at committee next week, we’ve already taken lots of steps which are fundamentally changing temporary accommodation.

“Ending the use of B&B is the priority. We’ve extended the PSL scheme, and are in the process of procuring a framework so that we can access temporary flats through the private sector and we’re looking at other forms of supported accommodation and working with the third sector, who are really important partners.

“The number one priority is investing in council homes. The biggest difference of all will be made by building 20,000 affordable homes over 10 years.”

If agreed by Thursday’s full council, officers will draw up a business case by January 2020. Cllr Watt said the solution could be “a case of buying existing properties as they become available or purpose-built properties”.