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Causes of homelessness

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Individuals often become homeless as a result of extreme personal difficulties, which may take the form of:

  • A troubled childhood
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Involvement in crime, which may have commenced at an early age
  • Substance misuse
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Victimisation by violent crime
  • Bankruptcy
  • Ejection from the home of a relative or friend
  • Eviction from a rented property
  • A prison sentence

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), the most frequent cause of homelessness is the unwillingness or inability of friends or family to continue to provide accommodation (15000+ households, or 24.5% of the assessed cases from October to December 2018)[1]. Another of the predominant causes is the termination of private rented tenancy, usually as a result of evictions by landlords (12000+ households, or 20% of cases). The statistics also indicate that relationship breakdown often results in homelessness.[2]

For a detailed analysis of the many interlinked causes of homelessness, refer to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.[3]

It must be noted that personal circumstances interact with broader, socioeconomic factors, which are instrumental in determining the extent of homelessness in the UK. Examples of such factors include:

  • The increasing cost of private rented accommodation
  • Housing shortages
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Lack of education
  • Problematic aspects of welfare policies (e.g. discrepancies between local housing allowance and rent, or delayed benefit payments)

A recent report from Shelter highlighted the magnitude of the issue; in 2019 Shelter’s emergency helpline received a call every 44 seconds, while the charity’s webchat service was used almost 26, 000 times. The situation in London is particularly concerning; in Newham 1 in 24 people were homeless in 2019. [4] The predominance of homelessness in the capital may be largely attributed to the significant expense of private rented accommodation in the city.

Homeless Link’s Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, has stated that in order to reach the government’s designated zero sum goal (i.e. the elimination of homelessness) by 2027, there must be radical governmental effort aimed at resolving the structural causes of homelessness, including poverty, the “broken” national welfare system, and the supply and affordability of housing. Henderson also emphasises the importance of governmental investment in services dealing with health and mental health, drugs and alcohol misuse, and domestic violence. According to the C.E.O, it is also essential that the government works to minimise the challenges facing our criminal justice system.[5]

The charity Crisis has also highlighted several other issues that are crucial to winning the battle against homelessness. These issues include the gap between the Local Housing Allowance and rent costs, unjust sanctions, and the current impossibility of having Universal Credit payments transferred directly to landlords (an option that may prove imperative in instances of individuals who do not feel sufficiently equipped to manage their own finances).[6]



[1] MHCLG, ‘Statutory Homelessness in England: October to December 2018’, 24 May 2019, <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statutory-homelessness-in-england-october-to-december-2018/statutory-homelessness-in-england-october-to-december-2018#initial-assessment-of-duties-owed

[2] Ibid.

[3] Theresa McDonagh, ‘Tackling homelessness and exclusion: Understanding complex lives’, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 12 September 2011 <https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/tackling-homelessness-and-exclusion-understanding-complex-lives>

[4] ‘280,000 people in England are homeless, with thousands more at risk’, Shelter, 18 December 2019 <https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_releases/articles/280,000_people_in_england_are_homeless,_with_thousands_more_at_risk>

[5] Rick Henderson, ‘We must tackle the structural causes of homelessness: rough sleeping figures for 2018 announced’, Homeless Link, 31 January 2019 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/news/2019/jan/31/we-must-tackle-structural-causes-of-homelessness-rough-sleeping-figures-for>

[6] Rosie Downes, ‘The big issues for ending homelessness: what the Experts by Experience told us’, Crisis, 14 February 2018 <https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/the-crisis-blog/the-big-issues-for-ending-homelessness-what-the-experts-by-experience-told-us/>