House of Commons Library

Statutory Homelessness in England

Published Monday, April 4, 2016

This House of Commons Library briefing paper provides statistics on statutory homelessness 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 Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in March, June, September and December. The Department also publishes annual statistics on Homelessness 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).

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 DCLG'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."

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 2015 this reason was behind 40% of all statutory homeless acceptances in London.

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.

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 current Government has appointed the Minister for Local Government, Marcus Jones, to head up the homelessness brief at the DCLG.

Also on 17 December 2015, the Government said 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. The inquiry is also considering the approach taken by national and local government to prevent and tackle homelessness. The Committee asked for written evidence to be submitted by 8 February 2016. The last Select Committee inquiry into homelessness took place over 2004/5.

Other relevant briefing papers

Duties owed to the non-statutory homeless are covered in the Library note entitled Rough Sleeping (02007). A separate note focuses on the placement of statutorily homeless households in temporary accommodation (02110) and 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).

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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