House of Commons Library

Households in temporary accommodation (England)

Published Saturday, October 21, 2017

This House of Commons Briefing Paper provides background information on the increase in the number of homeless households placed in temporary accommodation by English local authorities and outlines various initiatives and issues associated with this increased use of temporary accommodation.

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Why do authorities use temporary accommodation?

Local housing authorities in England have a duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households in priority need under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended). Households might be placed in temporary accommodation pending the completion of inquiries into an application, or they might spend time waiting in temporary accommodation after an application is accepted until suitable secure accommodation becomes available.

Numbers in temporary accommodation are increasing

Official statistics published in December 2011 marked the end of the long-term downward trend in the number of households in temporary accommodation; seasonally-adjusted figures had fallen in each successive quarter since peaking in 2004.

The most recent official statistics published in September 2017 recorded 78,180 households in temporary accommodation at the end of June 2017. This marks the twenty-fourth time that the number of households in temporary accommodation is higher than in the same quarter a year previously. Of these households, 54,180 (69%) were placed in temporary accommodation in London. The number of families with dependent children placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 740 at the end of June 2010 to 2,710 at the end of June 2017.

Securing suitable temporary accommodation

Various initiatives have been pursued to try to limit the use of unsuitable B&B-type temporary accommodation. For example, local authorities have focused on securing private rented housing through lease agreements with private landlords. Authorities, particularly in areas of high housing demand, argue that their ability to do this has been affected by Housing Benefit reforms, meaning that landlords can secure higher returns from letting their properties on the open market to non-Housing Benefit claimants (although not all homeless applicants are in receipt of Housing Benefit). One response has been for authorities to seek temporary accommodation outside of their own areas. There was a 248% increase in the number of households placed in temporary accommodation outside of their local authority between March 2011 and March 2017.

Particular challenges faced by London boroughs

February 2016 saw the publication of research commissioned by London Councils from the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York which identified specific issues for London authorities in securing temporary accommodation:

"A perfect storm of market conditions and policy changes means that providing temporary accommodation for homeless individuals and families is increasingly challenging for London boroughs."

In November 2016, the BBC reported that councils in Britain had spent more than £3.5 billion on temporary accommodation for homeless households over the last five years, with London accounting for 61% of this cost.

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 asked for written evidence to be submitted by 8 February 2016. Some respondents submitted evidence calling for more flexibility in providing temporary accommodation outside of their local areas. The Committee’s report was published on 18 August 2016. The Committee called on the Government to initiate a “renewed, cross-Departmental Government strategy”.

National Audit Office September 2017

The NAO's report on Homelessness recommends that:

The Department should work with local authorities to ensure that they are making the most effective use of temporary accommodation. This work should include enabling local authorities to increase their use of the innovative short-term solutions that they are taking.

Other relevant briefings

For information on wider Government initiatives to tackle homelessness, see Library Briefing Paper 01164, Statutory Homelessness in England. For an overview of statistical indicators see Homelessness: Social Indicators (SN/SG/2646).  There are now significant variations in approaches to homelessness in Scotland and Wales – these variations are outlined in Library Briefing Paper 07201 Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Commons Briefing papers SN02110

Authors: Wendy Wilson; Cassie Barton

Topics: Homelessness, Housing

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