House of Commons Library

Statutory Homelessness in England

Published Friday, July 6, 2018

This 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. In recent times, these bulletins have included statistics on local authority prevention and relief work. In June 2018, the MHCLG published a note setting out planned changes to the statutory homelessness statistics. Local authorities are now required to submit case-level data to the Ministry via a new system called H-CLIC. H-CLIC provides data on individual people in each household (previously, only household-level data was available). H-CLIC is also designed to capture local authorities’ prevention and relief activity under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

Trends 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. The figues for 2017/18 show a 5% reduction in acceptances on 2016/17.

Organisations such as Shelter and Crisis have long argued that the official statistics do not give a full picture of homelessness in England. The figures have excluded 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 had increasingly adopted informal responses to tackling homelessness, which resulted in households falling outside the official quarterly monitoring process. The Ministry has said that H-CLIC should “allow us to better understand the causes and effects of homelessness.”

The causes 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 said:

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) determined that the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on homelessness had 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”. The Government responded to the PAC report in March 2018 and accepted several recommendations.

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 first quarter of 2018 this reason was behind 27% of all statutory homeless acceptances in England. 

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.” More information can be found in the Government response to the PAC report (March 2018).

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. The Act's provisions came into force on 3 April 2018. Local authorities are concerned that the additional funding the Government is making 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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