Former homeless Greens councillor slams Edinburgh Council for homelessness law-breaking

Ben Wray

Edinburgh city council sending homeless Scots’ to Bed & Breakfasts as far away as Motherwell and Livingston for extended periods

A councillor in Edinburgh who was has previously been homeless has slammed the capital authority for breaking the law on how long homeless people can be housed in temporary accommodation.

Councils are allowed to house homeless people in temporary accommodation for up to a week, but a shortage of council housing has mean’t some are remaining longer in bed & breakfast (B&B) style accommodation.

Following criticisms of the practice by Shelter Scotland, Edinburgh Green Cllr Susan Rae, who has had to stay in a homeless B&B in the past, warned that the council’s attempts to find more permanent accommodation for homeless people was “heading in completely the wrong direction”.

She said: “One of the council’s big aims is to end the use of bed & breakfast hotels for homeless people. However, in the last six months alone, bed and breakfast use has soared by 14% to almost 120,000 bed-nights, some as far as away as Motherwell and Livingston.  This is not so much missing the target as heading in completely the wrong direction. 

“This comes at a human cost.  Bed & breakfast is the worst form of accommodation for homeless people and offers zero foundation on which to rebuild lives.  But it is also at a huge financial cost: with temporary accommodation as a whole costing £17.5 million a year. That is £17.5m of a sticking plaster which could be funding new homes.

A CommonSpace special report on homelessness in Scotland

“Fundamentally, Edinburgh needs far more genuinely affordable homes of course. But right now there is a crisis which needs a complete overhaul of the way homelessness is prevented and the systems which get people swiftly into the homes which are available.”

In recent months evidence of Edinburgh’s acute housing crisis has continued to mount. Last year, the Winter Care Centre run by Bethany Christian Trust saw a 132 per cent increase in requests for help since 2012/13.

Each social rented property in Edinburgh receives 147 requests for accommodation on average from those in vulnerable and emergency categories.

The Edinburgh based political activist and independent media worker Jim Slaven said on Twitter: “We need more public housing in Edinburgh. Not ‘affordable’ housing, not charity, not celebrities, not gimmicks of people sleeping out playing at being homeless then patting themselves on the back. More Public Housing.”

Edinburgh Council has pledged to build 20,000 ‘affordable homes’ over the next 10 years to deal with the crisis, a figure many campaigners say is far too few. 

CommonSpace reported in October that Edinburgh has the highest number of AirBnb’s per population in Europe, four times greater than London or Paris.

Cllr Rae said at the time that the rise in AirBnb’s was pushing local residents out of their homes.

“It’s been very clear, particularly over the last nine months, that people who have lived  – particularly in my ward – for long periods of time, for decades, in private sector rentals have lost their homes. They’ve had to move out, and they can’t find a new home in Leith or Leith Walk that they can afford, because the landlords are taking the housing back – ostensibly to renovate, or because they want the flat back to sell, but it’s just not happening. They’re being turned into Airbnb properties,” she said.

Kate Campbell, chair of Edinburgh’s homlessness taskforce said: “Importantly, the length of time that families are spending in B&Bs has come down a huge amount.

“It was around six weeks for some of the worst cases we’d heard about and that’s come down to under two. So that has made a difference. It’s not good enough and we still have a lot of work to do.”