16 May 2022

Latest housing statistics reveal impacts of COVID on housing supply

As we begin to emerge from many of the legal restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and start to adapt again to a more normal way of life, we can also begin to reflect on the impact of the pandemic not just on our lives as individuals, but on the broader economy and society as a whole.

The Scottish Government has published its annual housing statistics for 2020-21, providing an update on the new housing supply in Scotland across all sectors, along with information on various elements of local authority housing such as stock, lettings, evictions and housing lists.

As expected, the impact of Covid-19 over the past two years has been felt across the housing sector, most notably in terms of new build and affordable housing supply. The figures show that the new supply for 2020-21 totalled 15,360 homes, a decrease of 7,687 homes (33 per cent) on the number completed in 2019-20, and the first annual decrease in total housing supply since 2012-13. Decreases were reflected across the board, with drops in both housing association and local authority new builds and those in the private sector.

Completion rates for homes through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme (AHSP) were also down on the previous year’s totals, with 6,477 completions reported, a decrease of 2,819 homes (30 per cent) from 2019-20. In this same period, approvals for affordable housing fell by 39 per cent, and new starts also dropped by 16 per cent.

In addition to impacts on supply, the figures also reveal an increase in demand for social housing, with an 8 per cent rise recorded in the number of applications to local authority or common housing register housing lists. However, it should be noted that these figures are also likely to have been impacted in part by a reduction in the overall number of local authorities lets during 2020-21, caused by the pandemic.

There was also a 42 per cent drop in the number of the scheme of assistance grants paid to private homeowners for repairs and adaptations and a decrease of around £7 million paid out in disabled adaptation grants.

While all of this paints a somewhat gloomy picture of the current housing situation in Scotland, the figures do reveal slight increases in the overall number of local authority and housing association dwellings (an increase of 1,461 for local authorities and 1,539 for housing associations), taking the total number of social housing units in Scotland to just over 611,000.

Furthermore, figures for the more recent period to June 2021 show a 10 per cent pick up in all-sector new housebuilding completions compared with the previous year, a welcome sign of progress and evidence of the small steps being taken to rebuild after a complex and unprecedented two years.

However, there are still many challenges ahead. Coupled with the current ‘cost of living crisis, record rates of inflation, and the ongoing refugee situation in Ukraine, the drop in new build and affordable housing supply is a significant cause for concern, and it is therefore essential that the Scottish Government does everything it can to ensure that its commitment to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 (of which at least 70 per cent will be available for social rent and 10 per cent will be for remote, rural and island communities) gets back on track as quickly as possible.

The next few years are likely to remain extremely difficult for many people, particularly the most vulnerable in society, but as ‘normal business’ starts to resume, the housing sector has a hugely important role as we look towards the future and attempt to rebuild post-Covid.

Written by Susanne Flynn

Susanne is the policy and practice officer at CIH Scotland.