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EDINBURGH City Council has breached housing legislation by placing homeless families in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation for more than the seven-day legal limit 466 times in the last year, it has been revealed.

The figures, given in a freedom of information (FOI) request made by the Ferret, show that 598 families were put in B&Bs – many of which have been said to be substandard, over-crowded and unsuitable for children – from September 17-18 despite laws meaning local authorities should only do so in emergency circumstances.

Out of those recorded on the stats 466 families – 79% of the total – spent eight days or more in B&B accommodation. The law states homeless families with children or pregnant women must be moved from B&Bs within seven days.

Yet almost a third (32%) spent more than a month in B&Bs and one in five were there for over six weeks. Eight families were not moved by Edinburgh City Council for more than three months.

Charities and lawyers said often the only way to force the council to move families was to threaten legal action, which was done on a “frequent” basis.

The FOI also revealed that the council has failed to keep promises to stop using B&B accommodation for families from June this year.

In January it issued a press release announcing the “bold outcome” of the Homeless Task Force decision. However figures show that 199 families were accommodated in B&Bs in the period from June to September.

Of those 70% – 139 families – were there for more than the seven-day legal limit. Almost one in five were there for more than a month.

Edinburgh City Council is in the midst of a housing crisis with spending on temporary accommodation the highest in Scotland at over £190 million over the last five years, £145m of which was spent on private providers.

It included £15m spent on what has been alleged as substandard accommodation provided by the Akbar Mir family. Homeless B&Bs run by the family include the Almond Lodge, a run-down former backpackers hostel in Silverknowes, where homeless people have complained of dirty and stained bedding, alleged rooms are invested with bed bugs and raised concerns about the lack of cooking facilities. Meanwhile the Abbotts House Hotel in Leith has been said to be dirty and unsafe by families placed there.

In Edinburgh the number of people in temporary accommodation rose 89% from 661 households in 2010 to 1246 in 2017, the highest rise by far in Scotland. Almost a third of households in temporary accommodation were in hostels or B&Bs in March 2017, according to a recent report by Heriot-Watt University.

Edinburgh City Council has acknowledged the crisis and claims it is struggling to address problems due to the combined pressures of rising rents, intense demand and the introduction of the benefit cap in January – meaning parents could claim a maximum of £384.62 per week.

It said it was making some progress with only 17 families in B&Bs as of Friday and the average wait to be moved reducing steadily from six weeks.

Yet Pauline Bowie, of Lower Income Families Together (LIFT) – a grassroots charity in Muirhouse – said she and her staff were deeply frustrated by the glacial pace of change.

She has worked with single mothers asked to find an extra £94 a week out of thin air, women forced to cut the hours of minimum wage evening jobs because they couldn’t get home in time to meet B&B curfews, others treking across town on buses to get to school every morning because they have been placed miles from their communities.

She is also enraged that families she works with are given a two-month notice to quit – the charity reports it to housing immediately – yet nothing will be done until the first day they find themselves homeless.

“Nothing that they promised us back in June has really changed,” she said. “The figures are shocking, but unfortunately not surprising. They were saying this morning there are only 17 families in B&Bs at the moment but it seems difficult to believe. We will continue to fight until they do everything that they have promised.

“The Scottish Government needs to step in. This can’t go on – the accommodation is totally unsuitable.”

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, agreed that faster progress was needed: “Children shouldn’t be left to pay the price for the decades of under-investment in affordable housing in Scotland which has led to a national housing crisis,” he added.

“The legislation states that B&Bs should only be used for children and pregnant women in emergency situations and it’s clear from these figures that it’s routine for families who have lost their homes to be placed in this unsuitable form of accommodation.

“Shelter Scotland recognises the City of Edinburgh Council’s commitment to rectify the situation but it is not happening quickly enough for the capital’s families.”

Recent research by homeless charity Crisis found that 88% of those in temporary accommodation were depressed as a result of their living situation and 45% had no access to a kitchen, with many skipping meals as a result.

CHIEF executive Jon Sparkes, who also chaired the Scottish Government’s action group on homelessness and rough sleeping, said such conditions were “damaging and demoralising” for families.

Back in March the group put forward a raft of recommendations and found B&B use should be phased out. Crisis is calling for the seven-day limit to apply to all homeless people, with proper scrutiny put in place to ensure local authorities uphold the law.

“It is simply unacceptable that so many families in Edinburgh are spending weeks and even months in unsuitable B&B accommodation,” Sparks added. “Access to housing is a human right and these long term stays in B&Bs are simply not an adequate housing solution.”

Councillor Kate Campbell, housing convener for City of Edinburgh Council, said she found the knowledge that it had failed to end B&B use for families “heart-breaking”. “We made a pledge of having no families in bed and breakfasts by the time the task force reported because there is no number we could aim for other than zero,” she added. “We haven’t managed to meet that pledge yet but we will keep working towards it.”

The council has increased funding for a Private Sector Leasing scheme and brought on 30 more council flats to use as temporary accommodation for families, with more available in coming weeks, she claimed. It is also working to provide more mid-market rented homes, 50% of which will be prioritised for homeless families and is negotiating with Registered Social Landlords to identify more options.

“Ultimately though we need more homes,” she said, adding that it plans to build 20,000 over 10 years. “We are attacking this from every angle but, because of the extremely pressured housing market, the cost of privately rented homes and the shortage of social housing in the city it’s very difficult.

“The number of families, and the length of time they are spending in B&B, has come down. We won’t give up until that number is zero.”

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said the Scottish Government had regular discussions with Edinburgh Council in its aim to ensure no families spent more than seven days in B&Bs. “We are working with all local authorities as we recognise that some of them face particular challenges in providing appropriate housing for homeless families, which is why we provided an additional £23.5m for rapid rehousing and Housing First.”

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