Large scale investment is needed to reverse Scotland’s housing crisis, warns UNISON

8 October 2014

The Homes We Need alt text
Open the door: housing staff on the homes we have and the homes we need

A survey of Scotland’s housing staff has exposed the reality of frontline staff trying to cope with the huge scale of Scotland’s housing crisis.

Our report – Open the door: housing staff on the homes we have and the homes we need – looks at the real experiences of members involved in all aspects of providing housing services: housing officers, housing assistants and lettings officers.

The majority of those surveyed (68 per cent) said funding for their service had gone down, negatively impacting on the quality of service they can provide. Three quarters of respondents said changes in welfare and benefit legislation has contributed to the problem. At its bluntest, welfare changes have made life more difficult for tenants and this in turn has created problems for housing staff.

Some of the comments included:

  • “I work with homeless people. The pressure is increasing relentlessly. Demand is increasing as resources dwindle.”
  • “[Benefit changes] have impacted massively and it will only get worse. Rent arrears have risen and you cannot take what people don’t have.”
  • “Due to bedroom tax and direct payments of housing benefit to tenants we are seeing an increase in rent arrears and homeless rising due to more evictions.”
  • “How is it possible for them to provide for the future of their housing with less staff and more homelessness. It’s not possible.”

More than half of respondents (55 per cent) said they regularly work over their contracted hours while 58 per cent said staff numbers are in decline, meaning they don’t have as much time to spend with clients. Like other workers in public services, housing staff have been experiencing years of zero or minimal pay. Almost 70 per cent of workers said their standard of living had dropped in the previous three or four years, with many struggling to make ends meet.

Mark Ferguson, chair of UNISON’s Housing Issues Group, said: “This survey shows the shocking truth of Scotland’s housing crisis. It goes beyond the raw statistics and shows the reality facing frontline staff who are struggling to maintain a quality of service against a background of declining resources and increased financial pressure, while their workload increases.

“We have a crisis with the availability, the cost and the quality of our housing and we urgently need a large scale investment to reverse Scotland’s housing crisis. Any plan for social justice – and Scotland has had no shortage of talk of social justice in recent months – must have housing at its core.”


Notes to editors

1. The full UNISON Scotland survey – Open the door: housing staff on the homes we have and the homes we need – can be accessed on our website at

2. Scotland has approximately 1.46 million owner-occupied homes, 368,000 privately rented homes, 277,000 homes rented from housing associations and 318,000 homes rented from local authorities. There are currently 23,000 long-term private sector empty homes across Scotland.

The most recent Scottish Government Housing Statistics record that there are 179,954 households with

outstanding applications for social housing; of these some 29,500 are households on transfer lists meaning 150,000 households are waiting to enter social housing.

3. Further information can be found in our UNISON reports:

For more information contact:

  • Trisha Hamilton, UNISON’s Communications Officer, 0141 342 2877
  • Dave Watson, UNISON’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, 07958 122 409