House of Commons Library

Statutory Homelessness in England

Published Thursday, March 22, 2018

This House of Commons Library briefing paper provides statistics on statutory homelessness in England and explains local authorities' duties to assist homeless households. The paper includes an overview of, and comment on, Government policy in this area.

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What is statutory homelessness?

Local authorities in England have a duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who fall into a ‘priority need’ category.  There is no duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. For example, there is no statutory duty to secure housing for homeless single people and couples without children who are not deemed to be vulnerable for some reason.  Official statistics on statutory homelessness are published quarterly by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in March, June, September and December. These quarterly bulletins are now published with statistics on local authority prevention and relief work.

Increases in homelessness acceptances

The financial year 2010/11 saw a 10% increase in homelessness acceptances by local authorities, representing the first financial year increase since 2003/4. Homelessness acceptances continued to rise over the next three years but fell by 3% between 2012/13 and 2013/14. The 2014/15 financial year recorded a further increase, with acceptances 36% higher than in 2009/10 (but 60% below the peak in 2003/4). The 2015/16 financial year saw acceptances increase by a further 6% on 2014/15 and the 2016/17 financial year recorded a 2% increase on the previous year.

Organisations such as Shelter and Crisis argue that the official statistics do not give a full picture of homelessness in England.  The figures exclude those who are homeless but who do not approach a local authority for assistance and those who do not meet the statutory criteria. Local authorities are increasingly adopting informal responses to tackling homelessness, which can result in households falling outside the official quarterly monitoring process. In December 2015 the UK Statistics Authority published an assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics in relation to MHCLG's homelessness and rough sleeping statistics. The assessment found that the Homelessness Prevention and Relief statistics "do not currently meet the standard to be National Statistics." The MHCLG is working with local authorities on a new method of gathering homelessness data to “allow us to better understand the causes and effects of homelessness.”

The increase in statutory homelessness since 2009/10 is attributed to a number of factors, of which the most important is identified as the continuing shortfall in levels of new house building relative to levels of household formation. Housing Benefit reforms are also viewed as a contributory factor, particularly in London.

In addition to contributing to levels of homelessness, local authorities in areas of high housing demand argue that benefit reforms are also making it more difficult for them to secure housing for eligible applicants. Homelessness Monitor: England 2017 states:

Almost two thirds (64%) of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people, while half find it 'very difficult' to assist applicants into privately rented accommodation.

The report, which includes evidence from 162 of England’s 326 local authorities, reveals that councils are finding it particularly difficult to house homeless young people and large families, with 85% of responding councils having difficulties assisting single people aged 25-34 into accommodation and 88% finding it difficult to house large families.

The National Audit Office (NAO, 2017) has determined that the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on homelessness has not been evaluated:

Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, and at present costs the public sector in excess of £1 billion a year. It appears likely that the decrease in affordability of properties in the private rented sector, of which welfare reforms such as the capping of Local Housing Allowance are an element, have driven this increase in homelessness. Despite this, the government has not evaluated the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness, or the impact of the mitigations that it has put in place.

The Public Accounts Committee (December 2017) said the Government’s attitude to reducing homelessness “has been unacceptably complacent”.

A rise in private sector evictions

Homelessness arising from parents/friends/relatives being no longer willing or able to provide accommodation remains significant, as does homelessness arising from the breakdown of a violent relationship. However, the most frequently cited reason for loss of the last settled home is now the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy in the private rented sector. In the fourth quarter of 2017 this reason was behind 31% of all statutory homeless acceptances in London. 

Government action

The Coalition Government declared tackling homelessness to be a key priority. A Ministerial Working Group on Homelessness was established which published Making every contact count: A joint approach to preventing homelessness (August 2012). March 2015 saw publication of Addressing complex needs: improving services for vulnerable homeless people, which summarises the work of the group since its inception in 2010. The 2015 Government appointed the Minister for Local Government, Marcus Jones, to head up the homelessness brief at what was then DCLG. Heather Wheeler took over this role in January 2018.

The Government announced on 17 December 2015 that it would work with homelessness organisations and across government departments “to explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from facing a homelessness crisis in the first place.”

Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry

On 17 December 2015 the Communities and Local Government Select Committee launched an inquiry into the causes of homelessness, as well as the approach taken by national and local government to prevent and tackle homelessness. The Committee’s report was published on 18 August 2016. The Committee identified significant variations in the level of service offered to homeless applicants by local authorities and called on the Government to initiate a “renewed, cross-Departmental Government strategy”.

Review of legislation by an independent panel of experts

During summer 2015 Crisis established an independent panel of experts to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current homelessness legislation in England. The panel’s findings were published in April 2016: The Homelessness legislation: an independent review of the legal duties owed to homeless people. The panel concluded that the case for reform was strong, and favoured changes to place more emphasis on preventative work within a statutory framework, particularly in relation to single people and childless couples. The annex to the report includes suggested amendments to the current legislative framework.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017

Bob Blackman drew second place in the 2016 Private Members’ Bill Ballot. He introduced the Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 on 29 June 2016. The Bill secured Government and cross-Party support and obtained Royal Assent on 27 April 2017. When fully in force the Act will require local authorities in England to place more emphasis on the prevention of homelessness. More information on the Act can be found in these Library papers: Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 and Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17: Progress in the Commons and Lords. It is expected that the Act will come into force in April 2018.  Local authorities are concerned that the additional funding the Government will make available (£72 million) will be insufficient to cover the cost of the new duties.

Other relevant briefing papers and local data

Duties owed to the non-statutory homeless are covered in the Library briefing paper entitled Rough Sleeping (02007). A separate paper focuses on the placement of statutorily homeless households in temporary accommodation (02110). For a collection of homelessness statistics for local authorities see local authority homelessness statistics (England) (07586). For an overview of statistical indicators see: Homelessness: Social Indicators (02646).

Local level data on homeless acceptances in England can be viewed using the Library's online tool: 07586.

There are increasing variations in approaches to homelessness in Scotland and Wales – these variations are outlined in Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (07201).


Commons Briefing papers SN01164

Authors: Wendy Wilson; Cassie Barton

Topics: Homelessness, Housing

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