House of Commons Library

Rough sleeping (England)

Published Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The 2018 count in England recorded 4,677 rough sleepers, this represents a fall of 2% on 2017 but an increase of 165% on the 2010 count (1,768). This briefing paper provides background information on the causes of rough sleeping and local authorities' duties. The Government published a Rough Sleeping Strategy and a delivery plan in 2018.

Jump to full report >>

Local authorities' duties

Local authorities in England do not have a duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people.  Rough sleepers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society; studies have found strong correlations between homelessness and a multiplicity, and increased severity, of both physical and mental health conditions. Rough sleepers are over 9 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population; on average rough sleepers die at age 47 (age 43 for women).

Government initiatives

Successive Governments have put in place initiatives to tackle rough sleeping.  The Rough Sleepers Initiative operated between 1990 and 1999 until it was replaced by Labour’s Homelessness Action Programme. Over the years some ambitious targets have been set; for example, Labour set a target in 1999 to achieve a two thirds reduction in rough sleeping by 2002. No One Left Out (Labour, 2008) set a target of ending rough sleeping “once and for all” by 2012.

Crisis commissioned the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York to conduct a review of single homelessness in the UK between 2000 and 2010. The study, A review of single homelessness in the UK,  (2011) provides an overview of the history, causes and policy responses to single homelessness, and assesses how successful these policies have been in tackling the issue. The study suggested some policy responses for the next decade.

The Conservative Government elected in 2015 continued with the approach initiated under the Coalition. This No Second Night Out approach was piloted in London. A key aim was to ensure that no-one new to the streets sleeps out for a second night.  A Ministerial Working Group was established to prevent and reduce homelessness.

The current Government was elected with a manifesto commitment to “halve rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027”by setting up a new homelessness reduction taskforce to focus on prevention and affordable housing and by piloting a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping. The Government supported Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 which placed new duties on local authorities in England to prevent and relieve homeless for all eligible applicants from 3 April 2018. The Rough Sleeping Strategy was published in August 2018, this strategy is backed-up by £100 million in funding for two years. The Rough Sleeping Strategy: delivery plan (December 2018) provides an update on progress in implementing the 61 commitments in the strategy and information on next steps.

How many rough sleepers?

Despite these considerable efforts, the official rough sleeper counts showed increases every year after new methodology was introduced in autumn 2010 up to the 2017 autumn count. The results of the 2017 count were published on 25 January 2018 – a 169% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in England since 2010 was recorded. The 2018 count, the results of which were published on 31 January 2019, recorded a 2% fall on 2017, the 4,677 rough sleepers recorded represented a 165% increase on the 1,768 recorded in 2010. London saw a 13% increase in rough sleeping while the rest of England saw a fall of 6%.

Existing programmes have recorded successes in helping individuals to exit rough sleeping, but the flow on to the streets continues.

Rough sleeping is at its most severe in London. The latest financial year report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database, CHAIN Greater London Annual Report 2017-18 shows that a total of 7,484 rough sleepers were contacted by outreach workers or building-based teams in London during 2017/18, representing a 7.7% decrease on the previous year.

Factors identified as contributing to the ongoing flow of new rough sleepers to the streets include: welfare reforms, particularly reductions in entitlement to Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance; reduced investment by local authorities in homeless services; and flows of non-UK nationals who are unable to access benefits.

Approaches to tackling rough sleeping

Organisations working in the sector have called for an effective safety net and a long-term homelessness strategy backed by investment to deliver it. Some organisations support legislation to extend the priority need categories to cover all homeless people, an approach already adopted in Scotland.  In December 2017, the Public Accounts Committee published a report which criticised the Government’s approach to rising homelessness:

The Department for Communities and Local Government’s attitude to reducing homelessness has been unacceptably complacent. The limited action that it has taken has lacked the urgency that is so badly needed and its “light touch” approach to working with the local authorities tackling homelessness has clearly failed.

The Department is placing great reliance on the new Homelessness Reduction Act to provide the solution to homelessness.

While this new legislation will no doubt help, it cannot be successful unless it is matched by a renewed focus across government on tackling the twin issues of both the supply and affordability of decent housing, which underlie the causes of homelessness.

The Rough Sleeping Strategy was welcomed by the sector but organisations such as the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel have called for more to be done in, for example, areas such as cross-departmental working; developing more social housing; welfare reform; and security of tenure in the private rented sector.

Other relevant Library briefings

Housing First: tackling homelessness for those with complex needs

Rough sleeping in England: Social Indicators page

Rough sleepers: access to services and support (England)

Rough Sleepers and Anti-Social Behaviour (England)

Statutory Homelessness in England

Local Authority Homelessness Statistics (England) - This tool allows you to view collected homelessness statistics for individual local authorities in England.

Households in temporary accommodation (England)

Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Applying as homeless from an assured shorthold tenancy (England)

Homelessness in England: Social Indicators page






Commons Briefing papers SN02007

Authors: Wendy Wilson; Cassie Barton; Vyara Apostolova

Topics: Homelessness, Housing

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.