Homelessness: demographics


The Scottish Government publish statistics on homelessness applications, homelessness prevention and households in temporary accommodation. The following figures are based on the Scottish Government homelessness statistics for 2016-17.

Based on applications to Scottish councils (394Kb) made during 2016/17:

  • There were 34,100 applications to Scottish councils under statutory homelessness legislation.
  • 55% of main applicants are male.
  • 60% are aged under 35.
  • 66% are single households (primarily single men), and 21% are single parents.
  • 78% are White Scottish.

The number of households applying for statutory homelessness support fell substantially between 2009/10 and 2013/14, in part due to the adoption of the "Housing Options" approach (as outlined on the Policy context page). Since then, numbers have remained relatively static at 33-35,000 households per year (Scottish Government 2017b).The overall number of people coming to councils for any form of help with housing or homelessness assistance has declined slightly in the last few years (Scottish Government 2017b).

Temporary accommodation

Temporary accommodation includes temporary furnished accommodation, hostels, and bed and breakfast accommodation. Statistics collected by the Scottish Government indicate that there are around 10-11,000 households in temporary accommodation at any time in Scotland, largely because of long waiting lists for permanent social housing (Scottish Government 2017). At the end of March 2017, 30% (3,250) of households in temporary accommodation included children, representing a total of 6,041children (Scottish Government 2017). Stays in temporary accommodation may be of long duration: a recent study by Shelter estimated that the average stay is 126 days, with one in ten households staying for more than one year (Shelter Scotland 2015). 87% of tenants say they are happy with the quality of temporary accommodation (Scottish Housing Regulator 2016) but anecdotal reports suggest that the standards can vary considerably (Shelter Scotland 2015). 

Homelessness in Glasgow

Homelessness is a particular issue in Glasgow, where there is an unusually high number of homeless people with complex needs. In addition Glasgow City Council has found it difficult to meet its statutory duties, in part due to a lack of temporary accommodation and difficulties accessing permanent social tenancies (Fitzpatrick et al 2015, Glasgow Homelessness Network, 2015). Plans are underway for a Homeless Alliance for Glasgow that will bring together strategic partners involved in commissioning and service provision, including local government and the third sector (Glasgow City HSCP 2017).

Rough sleeping

  • Analysis of Scottish Household Survey data suggests that around 5,000 adults sleep rough at least once in a year in Scotland: this equates to an estimated 660 people on a typical night (Fitzpatrick et al 2015). Rough sleeping is primarily concentrated in Scottish cities.
  • Reports of rough sleeping among people applying to councils for homelessness support have fallen in recent years. In 2016-17 8% (2,621) of applicants slept rough at least once in the three months before applying for assistance, compared to 13% (6,571) in 2002/3 (Scottish Government 2017).
  • However, during winter 2015/16 the winter shelters in both Edinburgh and Glasgow reported some of their highest ever numbers. The shelter in Edinburgh recorded 706 unique users during the winter season; in contrast, council figures for 2015/16 record that only 235 people applying for homelessness support reported having slept rough at least once in the previous three months (Bethany Christian Trust 2017, Scottish Government 2017). In Glasgow there were 602 unique users of the shelter during the winter season: this compares to 425 people applying for support during 2015/16 who reported having slept rough at least once in the previous three months (Glasgow Homelessness Network & Glasgow City Mission 2017, Scottish Government 2017).
  • The difference between the number of rough sleepers applying to councils for statutory homelessness support and the numbers reported by winter shelters suggests that many rough sleepers are not recorded in official statistics. These will not include individuals who do not approach councils for homelessness support, which may be due to lack of awareness of the support available, a belief that they are not eligible for support (which may or may not be correct), or perceptions of the options available.
  • Anecdotally, most of those using winter shelters for rough sleepers are Scottish or British people. However, in some parts of Scotland, a substantial proportion of rough sleepers are migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, many of whom may not be captured by the official statistics, for the reasons cited above (Fitzpatrick et al 2015).


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