New report finds that 9% of adults have been homeless

The newly published Homelessness Monitor: England finds that nine per cent of adults in England have experienced homelessness at some point in their life, the highest rate of all the UK countries. 2.2% of adults report being homeless in the last 5 years, with the figure rising to 8% for under-25s. This study published annually by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) – and conducted by leading experts* from IHURER (Heriot-Watt University), the University of York and University of New South Wales – provides an independent analysis of the impact on homelessness of recent economic and policy developments in the UK.

The research found that visible forms of homelessness are up, with rough sleeping rising this year by 6% in England and 13% in London, pushing the two year increase in the capital to over 60%. After falling sharply for six years, the number of statutory homelessness acceptances across England has risen substantially by 34% since 2009/10.

The private rented sector is being relied on to meet housing demand yet is failing in too many instances –  sharply rising numbers are being made homeless across the country because tenancies are ending but they cannot find or afford an alternative. This is now the leading cause of statutory homelessness in London: there has been a 316% increase in homelessness due to this in the capital between 2009/10 – 2012/13.

During 2012/13 there has also been an increase of 10% in the number of people housed in temporary accommodation, with numbers in bed and breakfasts rising even faster (14%). In addition there has been a doubling since 2010 in the number of people being placed in temporary accommodation outside their local area. Such trends are overwhelmingly concentrated in London.

Underpinning these trends is the shortage and high cost of housing combined with the government’s policies – particularly reforms and cuts to housing benefit. These factors mean that homelessness is predicted to continue to rise despite signs of a recovering economy. The research identifies a housing ‘pressure cooker’, particularly in London and the South East: levels of house building would need to double that of 2012/13 just to keep pace with new household formation. Changes and cuts to the welfare system are critical to overall levels of homelessness, with two reforms presenting particular difficulties.

First, the caps in housing benefit are making it more difficult for people to find somewhere to rent from a private landlord, particularly in high cost areas of London. The numbers of people claiming in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea has reduced by a quarter since March 2011. Second, the Shared Accommodation Rate, as now applied to single people aged up to 35, is severely reducing access to private rented housing. There has been a 14% reduction in the numbers of young private tenants in receipt of this benefit since the changes were introduced.

Further welfare reforms introduced during 2013 are already having an impact. The ‘spare room subsidy limits’ (also known as the “bedroom tax”) are leading to a sharp rise in social sector arrears, particularly in the Midlands and the North, and in many cases among households that have not previously been in arrears. The overall benefit cap for out-of work households is impacting severely on larger families in London and other higher rent areas. Of particular concern is its effect on homeless families who have temporarily secured private rented accommodation.

The localisation of the Social Fund has resulted in a weakening in the support available to individuals and families in the crisis situations that can lead to homelessness and a growing resort to food banks.

Frontline services for homeless and vulnerable people at local level continue to be reduced, with the prospect of more cuts to come. There has also been a ratcheting up of the use of sanctions on benefit claimants, which was of greatest concern to single and youth homelessness service providers.

Some “hidden” forms of homelessness – including concealed, sharing and overcrowded households – are also rising. Particularly striking is the newly available Census 2011-based analysis
of overcrowding that suggests a rate of 5% across England (a total of 1.06 million households), rising to 12% in London, but with rates of 16-25% in certain London boroughs (Newham, Brent, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Southwark). Hotspots outside London include Slough, Luton and Leicester (10-12%). Nationally, Census overcrowding increased by 23% between 2001 and 2011, but the rise was much higher (35%) in Outer London.

The full Homelessness Monitor: England report can be accessed here, along with baseline and update reports for Scotland, England and Wales. The first Homeless Monitor: Northern Ireland is due to be published in early 2014.

* The report authors are Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Hal Pawson, Glen Bramley, Steve Wilcox and Beth Watts.