The fall and rise of homelessness in the UK

It’s not surprising that some news was buried under the media avalanche in the wake of the EU referendum. What would have been the news about the UK if it weren’t for the EU referendum result and its aftermath? Maybe homelessness figures don’t tend to hit the headlines, but the latest statistics for England tell a sobering story.

Rob Cowley is an Assistant Analyst at the National Housing Federation

Rob Cowley is an Assistant Analyst at the National Housing Federation

15 August 2016

How many?

In the year ended March 2016 57,750 households became homeless, an increase of 6% on the previous year. Homelessness is trending up, and has increased in every year (except one) since 2009/10.

The statistics also report on the amount of temporary accommodation, the main-stay of local authorities to alleviate immediate homelessness. Not surprisingly, the numbers go up as homelessness increases. At the end of March 2016 there were 71,540 households in temporary accommodation, the highest level since September 2008.

But perhaps the grimmest number in these statistics is the number of children living in temporary accommodation. This number had dropped to about 69,000 in 2011, but has grown year on year since then and stands at 112,080, its highest level since 2007.   

And there’s a much wider scale to the problem.

The homelessness I’ve been referring to is statutory homelessness. That’s where a household has been accepted by a local authority as being homeless. The total number of applications to local authorities – including those who haven’t been accepted – is nearly double.

That’s 114,790 households. If you assume an average household size of two persons that’s perhaps 230,000 individuals included in households applying for help from their local authority – in one year alone.

And there’s an unknown amount of hidden homelessness, those households who (for whatever reason) haven’t asked their local authority for help.

A little history

After the economic recession of the early 1990s homelessness increased every year, to a peak of 135,420 per year in 2003/04. The Government made a determined bid to reverse the situation. For example, specific measures placed a duty on councils to reduce the number of households in B&B accommodation.

Along with a buoyant UK economy, this action helped to drive the number of homeless households down to a low of 40,020 acceptances in 2009/10.

But since then, through the after-effects of the economic recession in 2008-2009 and on to today, the numbers have been on the rise – again.


The official statistics tell us the reasons for homelessness. The main reason – the single largest category – may surprise you: 31% is caused by the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST).

So nearly a third of homeless households have been unable to secure alternative accommodation at the end of their AST. In the year ended March 2016 that was 17,900 households.

In the decade before 2010/11 no more than 15% of homelessness was due to this factor. But since then it has escalated, year after year, to an astonishing 31%.

Of course the numbers have gone up partly because of the expansion of the private rented sector (2.1m homes in England in 1999, 4.7m in 2015).

But even so, for those households that are homeless at the end of an AST, something, somewhere isn't working in the private rented market.


The homelessness figures point to a desperate need for an increased choice in tenures to meet the need of households for whom home ownership – even subsidised home ownership – just won’t provide a viable solution.

The recent offer to Government by the Federation on behalf of its members is to build 60,000 homes a year across all tenures – in exchange for grant flexibilities in existing £7bn programmes.

The offer has two advantages: support for the construction industry in uncertain times beyond the EU referendum, and it underpins the Government’s ambition to increase the delivery of new housing.

To make the offer work grant funding would be used to support new homes for both sub-market rent and shared ownership, rather than for home ownership products alone.

But we can look beyond the economic and supply opportunities of the offer. Although housing associations can’t prevent homelessness growing in the private sector they play a major role in alleviating its effects.

Remember the headline homeless figure: 57,750 households. The offer of 60,000 new homes a year would make a huge contribution towards tackling this problem.  


The next set of statistics will be published in September 2016.

We can’t be sure of the future. But if homelessness continues to grow in the same way as it has, we could see something like this next year: 60,000 homeless households (for the first time in nine years), including perhaps 20,000 unable to secure accommodation at the end of an AST.

We could be looking at 80,000 households living in temporary accommodation, including 120,000 children.

Homelessness statistics shouldn’t be forgotten in the general rush of news – and they highlight the vital role that housing associations have in increasing the supply of housing across all tenures.


This post was originally published on the Social Housing website

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