Police Housing – 4 April 2024


Hamish McBeth was a popular TV series with Robert Carlyle portraying the idyllic life of a Highland police officer. Yet for many cops in remote or island Scotland their lot’s not a happy one. For sure, they enjoy their job and are rightly proud of the service they provide but it’s coming at a financial cost to them.

In some ways the TV show’s partly to blame. Its popularity boosting the attractiveness of the Highlands and Islands, increasing house prices and reducing the availability of long-term rentals. PC McBeth was set in Plockton, but a young officer now would find housing there unavailable, or what was on the market, to buy or rent, simply unaffordable. There’s a premium to buy and high rents for holiday lets means there’s nothing for lease.

Other areas such as the islands are equally affected. Their service is needed but those who serve can’t afford to stay there. Not just officers but communities are being harmed. They might be low crime areas, but policing is still required whether for public safety and reassurance or with other issues such as wildlife crime arising.

Of course, there’s Police Housing. Many rural stations have historically had houses attached or nearby. That should be the solution but has now become the problem. The reason is that they are to be charged significant rental and even face being taxed for a benefit in kind by HMRC, if the rent is deemed to be below the inflated market rate. It’s going to cost officers a pretty penny and that won’t be offset for them by the grandeur of the scenery.

It’s more than just a few quid and the cost of living is already higher in these parts. Besides much of this housing is dated even if not dilapidated. It can be a hefty rent for a building decades old, not well insulated and where heating’s essential but pricey. Some are just not that nice.

Compounding that’s the issue of what to do when they move locality or retire. Often staying on in these parts will be impossible as the pension just wont stretch to that. Returning to their mainland roots can see them out of the property market and struggling to get back on it.

Accommodation though can be provided exempt from tax as the treasury minister has confirmed to me. The criteria are;

“employees cannot do their work properly without it; for example agricultural workers living on farms;

an employer is usually expected to provide accommodation for people doing that type of work (for example a manager living above a pub, or vicar looking after a parish);

accommodation is provided to protect an employee because the type of work they do means there’s a special threat to security.”

I’ve been in correspondence both with Treasury and HMRC on that but so far to no avail. Yet is seems to me that Hamish McBeth or his successors qualify on every count, when just one suffices.

How can an officer in these remote parts do his work without a home. Commuting isn’t possible. Of course, it’s expected for officers which is why Police Housing was built. And finally, there are security issues in the broadest sense given the nature of the job.

Treasury should realise what the reality is not what the TV series showed.