English law defines somebody as homeless if they have no accommodation, or it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy the accommodation they have (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government - MHCLG).

The MHCLG is responsible for setting national policy on homelessness and leads on implementing it across government. Their objectives include to prevent at-risk people from becoming homeless in the first place; to rapidly intervene with people who are already homeless; and to help people who are long-term homeless to recover from their homelessness and move into stable accommodation.

The MHCLG also distributes homelessness funding to local authorities, which have a legal duty to provide advice and assistance to all households that are homeless or are threatened with homelessness. Local authorities are also responsible for providing temporary accommodation to homeless households that are entitled to it by law, generally referred to as the statutory homeless. Between October to December 2018, MHCLG has reported 61,410 households, or 92.5% of the cases assessed, were initially assessed as being owed a statutory homelessness prevention or relief duty. 

Besides statutory homeless, the most typical forms of homelessness include rough sleeping, in temporary accommodation, and hidden homelessness.

According to the MHCLG, 4,677 people were sleeping rough in England on any one night in Autumn 2018[1]. Although there has been a slight overall drop of 2% in 2018, rough sleepers have rocketed by 165% since 2010[2]. However, critics have said that MHCLG statistics only records a “fraction of the true rough-sleeping population” [3].

Whereas, the number of homeless households in temporary accommodation (such as shelters, hostels, refugees, or private and social housing) has reached 82,310 by June 2018 – a 71% increase in the last 8 years[4]. These 82,310 households include 123,630 children.

Furthermore, many are among the ‘hidden homeless’, who are ‘sofa-surfing’ at relatives or friends’ homes, living in squats or other insecure accommodation. Research by Crisis shows that 62% of single homeless people are hidden[5] and may not show up in official figures.

* For more detailed analysis of homelessness statistics, see Homeless Link’s report.


[1] The England rough-sleeping statistics comprise of both estimates and spot counts on a single night, intended to include anyone about to bed down or already bedded down on the street, in doorways, parks, tents and sheds but not hostels or shelters.

[2] BBC, Jan 2019. ‘Homeless on streets: Figures fall but 'root causes' remain’. [Online] Available at:


[3] Guardian, Mar 2019. ‘Improve quality of rough-sleeping figures, says UK statistics chief’. [Online] Available at:


[4] Parliament UK, Mar 2019. Households in temporary accommodation. [Online] Available at: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN02110

[5] Crisis, Mar 2011. ‘The Hidden Truth About Homelessness’. [Online] Available at: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/types-of-homelessness/the-hidden-truth-about-homelessness-2011/