The CrisisBlog

The Crisis Blog: conversations on matters related to homelessness.

Views here do not necessarily reflect those of Crisis.


Hannah Gousy @HannahGousy Senior Policy Officer

How vulnerable?

Today we’ve had some very good news. The Supreme Court ruled that councils will have to provide housing to people who are vulnerable and homeless . Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But up until now they’ve only had to do this if they decide someone is more vulnerable than the average homeless person.

If you’re homeless you are by definition vulnerable. Over a sustained period, homeless people without accommodation are far more likely to suffer physical or mental health problems than the general population. Both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder are reported at a rate at least double that of the general population. Most starkly, the average age of death for a rough sleeper is 47. The test therefore has created an almost insurmountable hurdle for single homeless people to overcome in order to access the real support and protections they need.

Crisis has long campaigned against this injustice and this is why we, alongside Shelter, intervened in this case to provide specialist evidence, based on the experiences of the people we work with every day, to argue that this test of vulnerability simply isn’t fair.

What does the judgment mean exactly?

  • Councils must now consider how vulnerable someone is compared to the ordinary person facing homelessness, not someone who is actually already homeless. This is an important distinction that will help ensure more single homeless people are considered a priority for housing.
  • The Supreme Court is clear that while councils are often under huge financial strain, a lack of resources should not in any way affect their decision about whether or not someone is considered a priority for housing.
  • Local authorities will no longer be able to rely on statistics relating to the overall homeless population to help them to assess that someone is more vulnerable than the ordinary person facing homelessness.

The vast majority of people who are found to be homeless and owed a duty by the local authority to find them settled accommodation are families with dependent children. For single homeless people you have had to demonstrate that you are vulnerable as a result of: a mental or physical health problem; learning difficulties; time spent in care, the army or prison; or because you are fleeing violence. And importantly that this makes you more vulnerable than the average homeless person. Only then have you been able to access housing. Over the past decade the proportion of people who have been accepted as homeless because they are vulnerable has fallen dramatically. It’s not a coincidence that as housing and resources have become more scarce local authorities have been using this extremely narrow definition of vulnerability, which allows them to exercise their discretion, as a way of gatekeeping access to their services.

The experiences of the three single homeless people at the centre of the Supreme Court’s judgment demonstrated just how shockingly extreme the test of vulnerability had become. Mr Hotak, for example, has learning difficulties affecting his ability to cope with life on a day to day basis. When he and his brother were evicted, he was told that he was not considered vulnerable because if he was street homeless his brother could look after him.

This judgment is a huge step forward in ensuring that single homeless people get the help and support they need to get back on their feet. But we know that there is so much more to do. For many people, they will not qualify as vulnerable at all. For this group of people councils have to provide them with meaningful support and advice as a minimum. Our recent research, however, found that this just doesn’t happen. The majority of people were simply turned away to sleep rough.

At Crisis we believe that everyone should be given the right support and assistance to end their homelessness.  The legal entitlements for single homeless people remain inadequate and many will continue to be turned away from help. We have been calling for a full review of the homelessness legislation to ensure that no one finds themselves in this situation.

In addition to tightening the definition of vulnerability there are other areas where much more could be done:

  • It’s essential that councils do more to prevent homelessness in the first place. Not only does this avoid someone going through this traumatic experience, but it makes much more sense given the chronic shortage of housing to help someone remain in their home in the first place.
  • We also need to consider the extent to which the test for intentionality, as it currently stands, is a meaningful way of deciding which people qualify for support. Whilst highlighting some of the more extreme cases the recent Nearly Legal post highlights the absurd reasons why councils are finding people intentionally homeless and how, like the test for vulnerability, this is being used as a gatekeeping tool.

You can find out more about our Turned Away campaign here.