West Lothian homelessness figure more than doubled in past year

The number of homeless people being housed in B&Bs in West Lothian has more than doubled over the last year, sparking concerns the council could face fines for breaching “deplorable” new Holyrood guidelines.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 6:00 am
Stock photo by John Devlin.
Stock photo by John Devlin.

West Lothian, which has the second highest number of homeless presentations in Scotland, had developed a Rapid Rehousing Transition programme (RRTP) that was starting to stabilise the numbers and speed up the transition into stable tenancies when the Covid pandemic began.

The pandemic and lockdown led to a surge in homeless applications, by mainly young people.

The numbers in B&B are up 128 per cent between the end of June last year and this, from 61 to 139. The length of time spent in B&B is up 227 per cent from 14 days to almost 49 days from June 2020 to June this year.

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Given the projected demand and supply projections, the council will be unable to meet the terms of the Scottish Government’s Unsuitable Accommodation Order which came into force 1 October.

As a result, the council will incur a number of daily breaches. Current projections show that the council may incur more than 350 breaches of the Order from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022.

Breaches could result in both legal challenges from advice agencies and potential financial sanctions under legal challenges through the Equalities Act.

In a report to the council’s Executive, Katy McBride, housing needs manager, said the council has nowhere near enough supply of both permanent and temporary accommodation to meet the current and predicted demand for social housing in West Lothian, as well as the need for suitable temporary homeless accommodation.

Alison Adamson, who represents Livingston North, criticised the introduction of the new powers at such a challenging time for councils, and asked: “How much money are we talking about in fines?

“It’s deplorable that our staff are working their socks off within the constraints they have and the Scottish Government is working on legislation which means that a council can be pursued for fines for not reaching targets.”

Ms McBride said the Scottish Government had not pursued fines so far but was working with councils looking for a solution to the problems.

Council leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick, chairing the meeting said: “That’s the reality of the situation.”

He added that he had met with cabinet ministers to impress upon them the severity of the issues faced by West Lothian.

“They are taking it away to look at it.” he added.

The council currently has a supply of 454 council owned properties for temporary accommodation which equates to 0.31 per cent of the adult population in West Lothian. A larger proportion, 0.98 per cent (1,464) of the adult population in West Lothian, presented as homeless in 2020/21.

Using the RRTP modelling scenarios, it has been calculated that the council needs 950 – 1,000 temporary accommodation spaces each year to meet the demand and only use B&B/hotels on short term, emergency occasions. To achieve this, a steady rate of 75 – 85 vacant temporary properties per month would need to be available.

The position for young homeless has been made more acute by the stalling of plans to build a new supported accommodation unit which was rejected at planning committee stage. A new proposal for the £4 million facility is set to come to the Executive at its next meeting.