GLASGOW spent £1.7million putting the homeless up in hotels last year as it failed to find suitable emergency accommodation for hundreds of people.

Council bosses resorted to big budget chains to shelter more than 800 households, including families with children, in 2011.

Officials insist they try to avoid hotels but admit they don't always have space in their stock of special furnished flats and other facilities for those who find themselves on the street.

Homeless charity Shelter today questioned whether cash spent on hotels could be put to better use.

Gordon MacRae, the charity's head of communications and policy, said: "No homeless family or individual would ever choose to spend days and weeks on end in temporary hostels or hotels.

"But sadly 800 households in Glasgow were accommodated in this way last year – almost a tenth of the total households in temporary accommodation in the city."

"There are occasions, in an emergency, for example, when households may be placed in hotels.

"However, councils must do everything they can to ensure this is for the shortest time possible."

Shelter is currently running a campaign – supported by Glasgow City councillors – highlighting how families with children still end up in bed and breakfasts, hotels and other unsuitable accommodation after becoming homeless.

Glasgow City Council, citing privacy concerns, has not revealed which hotels it uses – but confirms that they are usually budget chains.

Officials today confirmed the local authority had spent £1,719,719 on providing hotels rooms for 834 households in 2011.

That brings the average bill for a household to more than £2000, suggesting homeless people were being housed in hotels for weeks at a time.

The biggest single nightly bill for a single household was £223, although the Evening Times understands this was for an extended family that was made homeless in the middle of the night for a domestic emergency.

People put up in hotels included those who had to be evacuated from their homes after they become unsafe for one reason or another, such as a gas explosion or subsidence.

A council spokesman said: "Glasgow's homelessness service has been transformed over the past decade with the closure of four large-scale, council-run hostels, where homeless people basically lived in warehouses.

"In their place an extensive system of flats and small-scale supported accommodation units has been built up along with much more work done to prevent homelessness in the first place.

"However, there are occasions when the council must use B&B or hotels to ensure the council meets its statutory obligation to provide emergency accommodation.

"This is never done lightly but are there times of heightened demand when a B&B or a hotel place represents the best option, particularly if people are forced from their home by a civil emergency.

"We will always look to move people to more appropriate accommodation as soon as possible.

"Despite the overall progress that is being made, we refuse to be complacent on this issue."

HE continued: "Homelessness can be an extremely complex issue and we constantly challenge our own figures to ensure we have a clear picture of any emerging issues or trends.

"A big challenge for the council is working with the city's 68 registered social landlords to ensure sufficient permanent housing is available for those affected by homelessness."

Excluding the spend on B&Bs and hotels, the overall spend on temporary or emergency accommodation in 2011/12 was £20.9m, including £11.2m on temporary furnished flats.

A survey of UK councils carried out by Glasgow-based Firecrest Films, one of the makers of Channel 4's Dispatches, shows spending on hotels for the homeless varies dramatically from area to area. Birmingham, which is Britain's biggest local authority, spends far less than Glasgow.

Housing insiders said they believed hotel spending could jump up and down depending on unmanageable peaks and troughs in demand. As we revealed yesterday, the number of homelessness applications are down by as nearly a third in the last decade to 9144 in the 2011-12 financial year.

However, experts warned that welfare reform from Westminster and disappointing figures for new-build affordable homes could mean Scotland follows England to see rising homelessness in years to come.

Mr MacRae agrees more homes for rent must be built – or councils like Glasgow will end up ploughing more cash in to budget hotel chains and B&Bs. He said: "Until Scotland's chronic shortage of affordable housing is tackled head on by building at least 10,000 homes for social rent each year, councils will continue to spend millions of pounds each year paying for homeless people to be put up in temporary accommodation, often of a very poor standard.

"Those millions of pounds would be much better spent on ending Scotland's housing crisis for good."

david.leask@ heraldandtimes.co.uk