Homelessness is a form of social exclusion that covers a spectrum of inadequate housing arrangements. Under Scottish housing law, a person should be treated as homeless, even if they have accommodation, if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to stay in it. This includes people who are experiencing abuse or threatened with violence from someone they live with.

Street homelessness, also called rough sleeping, is the most visible form of homelessness. However, many forms are hidden. For example, sofa-surfing or living in overcrowded households.

Homelessness is not always a fixed state. People may experience just one episode, repeat episodes or it may persist longer-term. Homelessness is both a cause and a result of social and health inequality and poverty. At least 8% of the Scottish population (as of 30 June 2015) had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

These key facts are based on the Scottish Government published figures 31 January 2023, Homelessness in Scotland: update to 30 September 2022. Statistics are updated bi-annually.

  • Between April 2022 and September 2022 there were 28,944 applications for homelessness assistance, an increase of 11% since pre – pandemic and the highest figures since data collection began in 2002.  Open homelessness applications are highest since 2002, increasing by 29% since 2019, 
    • 2019 - 22,437 
    • 2020 - 27,009 
    • 2021 - 25,990 
    • 2022 - 28,944
  • There were 14,458 households in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2022, a 1% increase compared with 14,251 on 30 September 2021. This compares to 11,665 on 31 March 2020.
  • The number of children in temporary accommodation has increased to 9,130 in September 2022 from 8,285 in September 2021. This compares to 8,100 on 31 March 2020.
  • There has been a notable increase in those becoming homeless from a private rented sector tenancy, 19% for April 2022 – September 22 compared with 14% for the same period in 2021. This surpasses pre pandemic levels of 16% (2019-20). One contributory factor is likely a result of the ceasing of the ban on evictions.
  • During the period January 2022 – to September 2022 there has been an increase in rough sleeping with 1,684 households reporting rough sleeping during the previous three months and 1,003 the night before the application. Figures from the same period in 2021 show rough sleeping during the previous 3 months at 1,619 and the night before at 986. This shows a respective increase of 4% and 1.7%
  • On 30 September 2022 there were 15,026 temporary accommodation placements open. Between April and September 2022, 10,941 households entered temporary accommodation for the first time while 8,633 exited for the last time (i.e. where homelessness cases were closed) – this is a net difference of 2,308 (21%) households in temporary accommodation over this period.
  • Glasgow had the largest numerical difference with 464 more households entering than exiting. The next largest was Edinburgh with a net difference of 407 more households entering than exiting. There were 3,385 refusals of temporary accommodation offers between April and September 2022, a 7% decrease compared to 2021.
  • From April 2022 to September 2022, there were 300 instances of households not being offered temporary accommodation This is a fall of 15% compared to 355 in the same period in 2021.
  • Over the six-month period in 2022, there were 13,150 applications closed that had been assessed as unintentionally homeless. This is a decrease of 4% and 7% compared to 2021 and 2019 respectively. It is, however, higher than the 10,070 that closed in 2020, although this period is known to be affected by reduced levels of activity and availability of settled accommodation due to COVID-19.
  • In the six-month period in 2022, 64% of homeless households are single people, compared to 71% in 2020. This is below the 65% of all homeless households in 2019. Conversely, the proportion of households with children declined over the pandemic to a low of 24% in 2020 and have increased to 30% in 2022, slightly above the 29% in 2019.
  • In 2022, 86% of main applicants stated they were of White ethnicity. This compares to a peak of 90% in 2020 and is now slightly below pre-pandemic proportions (87%). Following a low of 6% in 2020, 9% of main applicants in 2022 declared an ethnicity which was not White, in line with pre-pandemic proportions.

Homelessness and Health Inequalities

Homelessness is often a late marker of severe and complex disadvantage, which can be identified across the life course of individuals. Multiple exclusion homelessness (MEH) is an extreme form of social exclusion and inequality. It is the visible result of complex issues including:

  • mental health problems
  • drug and/or alcohol dependencies
  • dual diagnosis (both mental health and substance dependency)
  • experience of institutions such as prisons, hospitals, or the care system

People experiencing homelessness have poorer physical and mental health than the general population. They often experience health conditions associated with old age much earlier in life. They have a higher risk of death from a range of causes and are much more likely to die young. The most common age bracket for death in males experiencing homelessness in Scotland is 45-54; for females, it is 35-44.

More than half of homeless deaths are drug related stated on the National Records of Scotland website. Children who are experiencing homelessness have higher rates of health problems and their development can be negatively affected.

The 2018 report Health and Homelessness in Scotland linked routine data to compare the health outcomes of people who had been assessed as homeless with those from the most and least deprived areas of Scotland who had not experienced homelessness.

The study found that:

  • 51% of people who had experienced homelessness at some point had no evidence of health conditions relating to drugs, alcohol, or mental health. This was much lower than in the comparator groups.
  • Around 30% had evidence of a mental health problem at some point during the study. This is higher than the comparator groups.
  • 6% of people who had experienced homelessness had evidence of all three of the following conditions: a mental health condition, a drug-related condition, and an alcohol-related condition. However, not necessarily at the same time.
  • People who had experienced homelessness had higher rates of respiratory illness compared to those who had not.
  • People who had experienced homelessness had higher rates of emergency department attendance than those who had not.
  • There is an increase in interactions with health services before people become homeless. There is a peak in interactions around the time of the first homelessness assessment.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) is continuing to link health data with homelessness data to provide local partnerships with evidence to support the planning of services for homeless people. Please get in touch to find out more about this work.

Action to end homelessness

National and local actions to address homelessness are set out by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan (updated October 2020). This outlines how the national government, local government and other partners, including PHS, will work collaboratively on our shared ambition to end homelessness. This action plan was developed by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). They worked with all stakeholders, including people with lived experience of homelessness.

The action plan includes a commitment to embed homelessness as a priority for improving public health. The case for seeing homelessness as a public health issue was set out in Restoring the public health response to homelessness in Scotland (2015). This report identified actions including:

  • the inclusion of homelessness prevention and mitigation actions within new or existing health inequalities strategies
  • considering how NHS boards support the role of housing and homelessness services within Community Planning and Health and Social Care Partnerships
  • addressing the health needs of homeless people, children, and families as part of the Health and Social Care Partnership strategic commissioning and locality planning

Since the publication of this report, the contribution of PHS to action on homelessness has been strengthened through partnerships working with government, local authorities, the third sector and colleagues across the NHS. National leadership comes from the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group (HPSG), which drives work to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

The Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health (FHIH) is an inclusive membership organisation that aims to support practitioners who are involved in health care for homeless people and other excluded groups. The Scottish branch of FHIH was established in 2016, following the publication of the report Restoring the public health response to homelessness in Scotland. It is supported by PHS and led by a multi-disciplinary steering group. To join the Scottish FHIH, please register and select Scotland as an area of interest.

PHS and the Scottish Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health have hosted several conferences and seminars on health and homelessness. You can view the resources from the most recent events:

For more information about our work on homelessness, please contact phs.housingandhealth@phs.scot

Last updated: 27 February 2023
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