AS we prepare to batten down the hatches for the second time in as many days, the need for safe and secure housing in Scotland is more urgent than ever before.

Hopefully a new report on the scale of this challenge will not be totally overshadowed by the double battering delivered to us by storms Isha and Jocelyn.

New research carried out for Homes for Scotland, which represents housebuilders, has found that more than a quarter of households in Scotland face at least one form of housing need. Extrapolated to the whole country, this works out at 678,000 with some element of need – a figure that dwarfs the 31,000 calculated by the Scottish Government using far narrower criteria.

That smaller figure is derived from the number of households living in temporary accommodation, plus estimates of overcrowded households that contain what’s referred to as a “concealed” family.

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This doesn’t mean anyone is hiding in the house. It means there is a family unit in the household that should have their own separate home but do not.

Clearly, those two groups face the most urgent need for better housing and should be prioritised. But what Homes for Scotland has sought to do is measure much broader need for housing, by carrying out an online survey of 13,690 households. The findings challenge the very definition of “household” by attempting to estimate the number of individuals who would like to have a home of their own but do not – such as young adults living with parents or in groups of friends.

In addition to those households that were overcrowded and concealed, the research sought to assess the number living in unfit properties, including those lacking special adaptations required, and those in need of more affordable accommodation.

While a very large number of Scots may feel they fall into the last category, given soaring rents and mortgage rates, this was defined as households that reported spending more than 50% of their gross income on housing and also stated they were not coping well financially.

So what needs to be done to address this worryingly high level of real housing need?

Well, it’s worth bearing in mind that a body representing housebuilders will have its own answers to that question, but building new homes is clearly the top priority. Homes for Scotland argues that insufficient land is being allocated for the building of social, affordable and private housing, and hopes its own research evidence will help inform policy decisions on housing planning.

Meanwhile, councils warn there will be dire consequences if the Scottish Government goes ahead with the 26% cut to the Affordable Housing Programme in its draft Budget.

The National: Housing

Fife Council started the year with a stark warning that it was on the brink of following the example set by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Argyll and Bute by declaring a housing emergency. For now it has held off doing so, while desperately appealing for more funds.

Housebuilding cannot happen overnight, but there are other ways to address housing needs more quickly. Homes for Scotland says that carrying out repairs could reduce the total number of households in acute housing need to 550,000. In addition there are an estimated 46,000 homes in Scotland that have lain empty for six months or longer, according to the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership – an unacceptable state of affairs when so many people are desperately in need of homes to call their own.

Part of Fife’s plan – and those of other local authorities – involves bringing these empty properties back into use. This can be challenging work, as illustrated by an independent audit of long-term empty homes policy and interventions in Scotland published in the autumn.

The Council Tax freeze pledged by Humza Yousaf at the SNP conference does not apply to empty homes, and since 2023 councils have had the discretionary power to set an increase of 100% on certain properties that have been empty for more than a year.

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One might expect this would be a powerful incentive to owners of private property to either sell them or start renting them out, but the audit suggests that hiking council tax across the board is not the simple solution it may appear.

Punitive levels of Council Tax can dissuade owners from declaring empty homes, or simply deplete the funds available for repairs or other planned upgrades.

When it comes to empty homes it’s clear owners do not always act rationally, perhaps understandably given some are empty due to a death. For this reason the work of local authority Empty Homes Officers needs to be sensitive, and take into account the particular reasons why the home is not in use.

Perhaps some owners of empty homes are unaffected by reports of a housing crisis – after all, what difference will it make if one more property is sold or rented out when 550,000 are required? But for a “concealed” family, it could make all the difference. Let’s hope these stark figures tug on a few consciences.