Proposals by the Scottish Government, set to be tabled this year, could require all councils to limit homeless people being sheltered in “unsuitable accommodation” to seven days.
Currently, rules state that families with children and pregnant women can only be housed in unsuitable B&B accommodation for one week, but Edinburgh Council has breached this rule 740 times in the space of two years – considerably more than all other Scottish councils combined.
In 2018, 4,572 homeless people were accommodated in B&Bs and hotels for a total of 240,652 nights. The average stay in B&B for homeless people in Edinburgh is between 14 and 18 months.
The Scottish Government is also set to table plans to “remove the requirement for people facing homelessness to have a connection to a council area before they can receive support” from councils.
Cllr Kate Campbell, housing, homelessness and fair work convener, said: “The focus on homelessness in the Programme for Government is incredibly positive. It continues work by the Scottish Government to improve and strengthen legislation in a way that, for families and households experiencing homelessness, will make a really big difference to their lives.
“Ending the use of unsuitable accommodation is an absolute priority. That is why over the last two years we have increased the stock of temporary furnished flats in Edinburgh by over 110 and replaced the vast majority of our B&B contracts with shared housing where everyone has food storage, access to a kitchen and a washing machine.
“In terms of removing local connection I don’t think anyone would disagree with the reasons for doing it, but we have to also recognise that for some local authorities, particularly Edinburgh, this is extremely likely to increase demand on a system that is already under severe pressure. We have to look carefully at how we improve people’s housing options and there has to be a discussion around resource allocation once we have a clear picture of where we are seeing that increased demand.”
The Scottish Government will this year provide £8m to support rapid rehousing transition plans being implemented across Scotland – but Edinburgh’s five-year proposals alone would cost £9.2m to be implemented.
Green housing spokesperson, Cllr Chas Booth, said: “The changes to homelessness rules will, in one way, add pressure to a homelessness service which is already struggling.
“Changing the regulations may force the council’s hand to do what is right anyway. Similarly, on changes to rules to local connection removes the reality of simply bouncing people from pillar to post rather than focusing on what people actually need.
“However, I do think that the Scottish Government also needs to recognise the sheer scale of strain Edinburgh is under. The Scottish Government needs to help out in a way it helped Glasgow’s homelessness service 20 years ago.”
Conservatives have raise concerns over the Capital seeing an increase in people presenting as homeless.
Tory housing spokesperson, Cllr Jim Campbell, said: “Edinburgh is a fantastic city and lots of people want to come to live here.
“I would be concerned that getting ride of the need to have a historic connection could result in an awful lot of homeless people coming to Edinburgh. This could further burden the resources when we are already struggling to provided enough housing for people to live. It is time for the Scottish Government to be funding that demand.”
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said:“Anyone facing homelessness should be offered appropriate, settled accommodation as soon as possible in order to help rebuild their lives.
"Temporary accommodation like B&Bs should only be used in emergency situations, for short periods of time. The unsuitable accommodation order clearly sets out the physical standards that make a property unsuitable.”