Thames Reach
Saturday 30 May 2015
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Homelessness facts and figures

Homelessness – understanding the statistics

1. Background

Explaining the world of homelessness to supporters, funders and friends is an important task for everybody working with homeless people and there are two frequently asked questions which, understandably, arise time after time. These are:

a) What are the reasons for people becoming homeless?

b) How many homeless people are there?

This article covers the second of these questions. We have all taken part in confusing conversations about the homelessness statistics. Measuring the size of the problem is not a simple exercise and the different figures referred to can often lead to the listener feeling baffled and bewildered.

Hopefully this article will go some way in clarifying the figures that are frequently used, as well as illuminating the ones that are rarely mentioned.


2. Statutory homeless figures

The confusion starts because often the first reference point is government statistics. The United Kingdom has a highly unusual safety net for people who become homeless, which is not simply based on the notion of rooflessness, or literal homelessness.

A piece of research by the University of York [1] illustrates how our safety net is one of the most comprehensive in the world. In practice, homelessness legislation in this country means that a person can be in temporary accommodation and entitled under law to longer term housing from the state, whilst someone on the street sleeping rough may not be entitled to longer term housing from the state.

[1] An International Review of Homelessness and Social Policy (2007)


The important piece of legislation is the Housing Act 1996 (Part 7) which places a statutory duty on housing authorities (councils) to provide assistance to people who are homeless but a main duty of homelessness, that is, an obligation to re-house into longer term housing, towards only those individuals who are eligible for assistance because they are in ‘priority need’ groups.

The priority need groups include households with dependent children, a pregnant woman, 16 and 17 year-olds, 18-20 year olds previously in care, people who are vulnerable because of a disability or age and others who are vulnerable as a result of being in care, custody, in HM forces or having to leave home because of a threat of violence.

The statutory safety net works very successfully where the proof of statutory rights is easy to establish; e.g. where you are required to prove that you have dependent children. It is less helpful where you have to prove not only circumstances, but vulnerability.

For example a person with a physical disability has to prove that their disability makes them vulnerable ‘so that they may suffer in a situation where another homeless person would be able to cope without suffering’. A process of assessment is required to ascertain vulnerability and this is carried out by the local authority to which the person has applied.

The government provides quarterly homelessness statistics for England. The most recent statistics – July to September Quarter 2014 show that there were 60,940 households in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2014. This is 6% more than at the same date last year but still much lower than in 2004/5 when numbers peaked at around the 100,000 mark.

13,900 households were accepted as homeless between July 1 and September 30, 4% higher than during the same quarter of 2013.

Of these, 74% are families or pregnant women. In contrast only 2% are people eligible for longer term housing because of old age.

The most common reason for becoming homeless was the end of an assured shorthold tenancy at 29%. This is a big rise, nearly doubling, from the same quarterly figures back in only 2010 which showed only 15% becoming homeless due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. They are mainly first time rather than repeat applications of homelessness as most local authorities are still discharging their duties by offering social housing – 66% of households were provided with settled accommodation by accepting what is known as a ‘Part 6’ offer of a tenancy in local authority or housing association accommodation. This is 5% down on the same quarter in 2013. 360 households accepted offers in the private rented sector which local authorities have been given government permission to use in recent years.

Parents, relatives or friends being no longer able, or willing, to accommodate the person accounted for 26%.

In a further 17% of acceptances, the reason for homelessness was the breakdown of a relationship with a partner, 70% of these cases involving violence.

The quarterly figures indicate only 2% were accepted as homeless because of mortgage arrears and through possession of their homes. (210 of the 13,900 households accepted during the quarter.) The proportion of acceptances due to mortgage arrears has remained much lower than the peak in the last downturn: 12% during 1991.

The same set of statistics show that 5,060 ‘households’ approached councils for assistance with housing and were found to be homeless; that is, they were not entitled to occupy, or could not be expected to remain in, their accommodation. However, a main duty of homelessness was not owed by the local authority and therefore the applicant was not eligible for longer term housing (i.e. they were not in a priority group). A further 2,220 applicants were considered to be homeless and to be in priority need. However, they were deemed to be ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore there was no requirement to find them longer term housing. Intentionality arises where it is deemed that the person or household has deliberately done something that caused them to leave accommodation that they could otherwise have stayed in. The usual reasons are non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour.

15,260 or 25% of households were housed in temporary accommodation in another local authority district. This is an increase of 29% from the 11,860 or 21% of households in temporary accommodation in another local authority district at the same date last year.

14,420 or 93% were from London authorities. This is an increase of 29% from the same date last year when 10,940 such households were in London.

This last figure may well be one of the first firm pieces of evidence to show the impact of the Coalition Government welfare reforms – the housing benefit cap alongside the London property bubble makes it difficult for councils in the more expensive parts of the capital to house families and forces them to look elsewhere.


3. Rough sleeping figures

3a Snapshots

Rough sleeping figures are collected through local authority street counts and estimates. All 326 local housing authorities across England provided a figure.

Street counts were undertaken by 49 local authorities where it was believed that the local rough sleeping problem justified counting and estimates were provided by the other 277 local authorities.

The street counts and estimates represent a snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night.

The autumn 2014 total of rough sleeping counts and estimates indicates a total of 2,744 people. This is up by 330 (14%) from the autumn 2013 total of 2,414 and 55% from 1,768 in 2010 when the first equivalent count took place.

London had the largest number of rough sleepers at 742, which accounted for 27% of the national figure.

The number of rough sleepers in London has increased by 37% from 543 in Autumn 2013, compared to an increase of 7% in the rest of England.

Thames Reach has gone on record to query some of these estimates and whether they accurately reflect the situation on any one night. They may well be over estimates – some towns have estimated higher figures than those reported by councils conducting street counts in well-developed urban areas with well established and higher levels of homelessness support services.

This could indicate some local authorities have misinterpreted the Government’s guidance and are not estimating the number of on any one night but across a longer timescale. Examples of this include an estimate of 38 people by the local authority in Canterbury for any one night, which seem particularly high, bearing in mind snapshot figures in London are approximately only 10% of the annual total.


3b Annual figures

Annual figures for rough sleepers show a greater problem. Rough sleepers move or are helped off the streets and new rough sleepers come onto the street. Over a year, the figure is therefore much larger.

In London a database called CHAIN compiles information on all the rough sleepers who are met by street outreach teams and other services set up to help those sleeping rough. The number of rough sleepers found by outreach teams on London’s streets has increased by 1% over the past year.

6,508 people were seen sleeping rough between April 1 2013 and March 31 2014 compared with 6,437 for 2012/2013. A 1% increase. It comes on top of a 13% increase when comparing 2011/12 and 2012/13 and a 43% increase between 2010/11 and 2011/12.

These increases have happened however at a time when street outreach services have been expanded and a new No Second Night Out strategy was introduced to the capital in April 2011.

In total, outreach teams and other services helped 2,452 people off the streets into accommodation during the year.

In the past year, 70% of new rough sleepers were only seen once, indicating services were getting to many people sleeping rough very quickly and the No Second Night Out strategy was proving successful.

The figures were released in the Street to Home CHAIN annual report collated by St Mungo’s Broadway which records the work undertaken by charities such as Thames Reach, which runs a series of outreach teams operating across the capital.

The report also showed that only 3% or 164 of the total of rough sleepers in the capital were seen in all four quarters of the period indicating that efforts to help people living on the streets were successful.

Over half, or 54% of the total of rough sleepers, were non UK nationals with Central and Eastern Europeans making up 31% of the total.

13% or 837 of the total people sleeping rough were female.

Recent reports about youth homelessness weren’t backed up by the CHAIN annual report which indicated that only 11 people under 18 or less than 0.2% of the total were found by outreach teams. 3,715 or 57% of London's rough sleepers were aged between 26-45 while ten per cent or 635 of London’s rough sleepers were over 55.

The number of UK ex armed services personnel is often the subject of media interest and yet figures showed 127 individuals, making up only 3% of the total on the streets. 337 non UK individuals had experience of being in the armed services however, making up 7% of the total.


3c Quarterly figures

Quarterly reports are also issued from the information gathered on the Chain database indicating how many people slept rough on London’s streets during the period.

During the period October 1 – December 31, 2014, 2,565 individuals were found sleeping on London’s streets. This is a 13% increase on the total figure for October 1– December 31, 2013. It is however down 5% from the July 1 – September 30, 2014 figure of 2,704.

1,262 people were recorded as sleeping rough for the first time, which was 17% up on the 1079 figure for the same quarter last year but 15% down on the total figure of 1,456 for July – September 2014.

905 or 72% spent just one night sleeping rough.

The number of long term rough sleepers deemed to be living on the streets was 423 and is 1% lower than the same period last year, but 7% higher lower than the immediately preceding period of July – September 2014.

The number of intermittent rough sleepers – those not new to the streets but without enough contacts with outreach teams to be deemed to be living on the streets – was 907. This is 12% higher than the same period last year and 3% higher than the immediately preceding three month period.

During this timescale 655 rough sleepers were booked into accommodation or helped to return home, an increase of 14% over the previous quarter’s figure of 576. 447 were found and booked into the No Second Night Out Assessment Centres.

44% of rough sleepers from London’s streets were from the UK and 56% were from overseas. 34% were from Central and Eastern Europe including 15% from Romania.

The support needs of the people seen sleeping rough by outreach services showed 46% had mental health issues, 44% had issues with alcohol, almost invariably super-strength lagers and ciders, 31% had issues with drugs, primarily heroin and crack cocaine, and only 25% didn’t have one of these support needs.


4. Hostels – first and second stage accommodation

Apart from households in temporary accommodation and rough sleepers there are also people living in hostels who are perceived by many to be homeless, even if they do have a roof over their head.

Direct access hostels are defined as first stage accommodation and are often the first place that a rough sleeper will be referred to by an outreach worker. The aim is to help people with their problems and to move on after six to twelve months. Second stage accommodation offers specialist support to homeless people as they aim to get their lives back on track.

The number of people who use hostels over a year is very difficult to estimate as the level of bed-space ‘turnover’ would need to be established and this is almost impossible to do on a national basis with any reasonable degree of accuracy.

 According to Homeless Link, which produced ‘Support for Single Homeless People in England Annual Review 2014’, there are a total of 38,534 bed-spaces in 1,271 hostels and second stage accommodation across England. London has the highest number of projects in total with 199 and the most bed spaces with 10,216. London also has the highest rate of bed-space provision with 123 bed spaces per 100,000 population.

Turnover in hostels varies greatly, but it is reasonable to assume that at least 75,000 different individuals use hostels over a course of a year. Again, hostel residents are unlikely to show up significantly in the statutory figures. Some hostel residents will also have slept rough so could be ‘double counted’ in the rough sleeping figures, but other hostel residents will never have slept rough.


5. ‘Hidden homeless’

The broader the definition given to ‘the homeless’, inevitably the more speculative becomes the figures given for the number of homeless people. One commonly quoted figure is the number of hidden homeless, meaning that group which is not entitled to accommodation because they are not deemed by councils to be in priority need, yet have no accommodation that they are entitled to occupy or can reasonably continue to occupy. The hidden homeless figure is usually given as 400,000 but should be treated with caution.

Firstly, it includes rough sleepers and hostel residents, for whom a separate figure is given, above.

Secondly, it raises a bigger issue about how far someone can be defined as homeless simply as a consequence of their physical situation. For example, the hidden homeless figure includes people who are forced to stay with family and friends for a period and are reliant on continued goodwill to sustain this arrangement (‘sofa surfers’). Should everyone in these circumstances be regarded as homeless?

Some argue that there is a big difference between, for example, a sofa surfer with few prospects and a crack habit and a sofa surfer who can, if necessary, fall back on parents with a good income and expect to find a well paid job in the near future without too much difficulty.


6. Summary of statistics

Statutory homelessness (England):

  • 60,940 households in temporary accommodation (September 30, 2014)
  • 74% of acceptances are people with dependents or pregnant women
  • The main reason for a person or household becoming homeless was the end of a shorthold tenancy (29%)
  • Nearly 20,000 people annually are found to be homeless but not in priority need
  • Approximately 8,000 people annually are found to be homeless but not entitled to housing as a result of being intentionally homeless


Rough sleepers

  • The Government rough sleeping figures for England composed of street counts and estimates indicated 2,744 people slept rough on any one night in England (Autumn 2014). This is up by 330 (14%) from the autumn 2013 total of 2,414 and 55% from 1,768 in 2010 when the first equivalent count took place. Doubts are emerging over some of the estimates as some councils may have misinterpreted the need to estimate the figures on any one night, and returned higher figures reflecting a longer timescale.
  • A mixture of street counts and estimates indicated 742 people slept rough on any one night in London, accounting for 27% of the national figure.
  • 6,508 different people slept rough over a year in London (April 1 2013-March 31 2014)
  • During the period October – December 2014, 2,565 individuals were found sleeping on London’s streets. This is a 13% increase on the total figure for October – December 2013. It is however down 5% from the July – September 2014 figure of 2,704.


  • 10,216 hostel and longer-term bed-spaces in London
  • 38,534 hostel and second stage accommodation bed-spaces in England
  • At least 75,000 individuals use hostels over a year

Hidden homeless              

  • Estimated at 400,000


Updated February 26 2015.