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What is homelessness

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An individual is legally deemed homeless if they do not have accommodation or if they are currently occupying accommodation in which their continued residence would be unreasonable.[1]

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) is responsible for prescribing national policies on homelessness and instigating the governmental implementation of such policies. The objectives of the MHCLG include the prevention of homelessness among those deemed to be at risk, and rapid intervention among those who are already subject to homelessness. The ministry also provides assistance to those who have been homeless over a long-term period, with the intention of facilitating their transition into stable accommodation.

The MHCLG distributes funding to local authorities to aid them in their legal duty of combatting homelessness, by offering advice and assistance to all households that have become homeless or are threatened by homelessness. Local authorities also have a responsibility to provide temporary accommodation to homeless households that are legally entitled to such provision (the “statutory homeless”).

Between July to December 2019, the MHCLG has reported that 34,940 households were initially assessed as homeless and entitled to a relief duty. A further 36, 640 households were assessed as being threatened with homelessness within the next 56 days and were therefore also eligible for a relief duty. Another disconcerting finding revealed that 46.1% of households entitled to a prevention or relief duty, had one or more support needs, the most prevalent being a history of mental health problems. [2] 

In addition to statutory homelessness, the most prevalent forms of homelessness include “rough sleeping”, “in temporary accommodation”, and “hidden homelessness”.

According to Homeless Link, 4,266 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in England during the autumn of 2019.[3] Although this statistic represents a decrease of 9% since the previous year, the number of rough sleepers has increased significantly, by 141% since 2010.[4] Furthermore, critics have said that the statistics provided by the MHCLG only record a “fraction of the true rough-sleeping population”.[5]

The number of homeless households in temporary accommodation (such as shelters, hostels, refugees, or private and social housing) has reached 86,130 by June 2019 – a 79% increase since December 2010.[6] These 86,130 households include 127, 370 children.[7]

Furthermore, many are among the “hidden homeless”, who are “sofa-surfing” at the homes of relatives or friends or residing in squats or other such insecure accommodation. Research by Crisis shows that there are currently 380,000 “hidden homeless” individuals in Britain, who may not show up in official figures.[8]

* For a more detailed analysis of homelessness statistics, see Homeless Link’s 2018 Annual Review




[1] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Homelessness statistics’, GOV.UK, 27 February 2020 <https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics#statutory-homelessness>

[2] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Statutory Homelessness, July to September (Q3) 2019: England’, GOV.UK, 19 March 2019 <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/873677/Statutory_homelessness_release_Jul-Sep_2019.pdf>

[3] Homeless Link, ‘Rough sleeping – our analysis’, February 2020 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis>

[4] Ibid.

[5] Patrick Greenfield, ‘Improve quality of rough-sleeping figures, says UK statistics chief’, The Guardian, 26 March 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/26/improve-quality-of-rough-sleeping-figures-says-uk-statistics-chief>

[6] House of Commons Library, ‘Households in temporary accommodation (England)’, 10 February 2020 <https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn02110/>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kesia Reeve, ‘The hidden truth about homelessness’, Crisis, May 2011, <https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/236816/the_hidden_truth_about_homelessness_es.pdf>