The Scottish Parliament's education committee on Wednesday was told by a succession of youth spokesmen of rising costs that damaged core work in informal education.
Simon Jaquet, chief executive of Youthlink Scotland, the national youth agency, urged ministers to consider free lets as part of their national youth work strategy. There would be some financial loss to local authorities but this would be offset by "an opportunity gain for young people".
Allister Short, development manager for Youth Scotland, the non-uniformed organisation for clubs, groups and projects, said that youth groups often lost out to adult clubs which could afford to pay under devolved management systems.
Liz Pitcairn, chief commissioner for Girlguiding Scotland, said that groups which used schools had to pay pound;30 to register and then pound;30 an hour for a hall. In contrast, her own group of 30 girls had to each pay pound;30 a year to use the church hall. A coffee morning raised another pound;200.
"That's the difference between the church hall and the school," she said.
Tom Boyle, Boys' Brigade director, said school premises were by far the best, although they were now priced out of reach of many groups. Some have stopped meeting. "Units have moved into the local church but facilities are not of the standard to be acceptable to young people," Mr Boyle told MSPs.
BB groups liked to meet several times a week but school charges reduced that to one night.
Jim Duffy, chief executive of the Scout Association, said: "We grossly undervalue non-formal education and as a consequence we grossly under-resource it."