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Hannah Gousy @HannahGousy Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Who appears in the homelessness statistics?

Today the government published figures on statutory homelessness. They show an 8% increase in the number of people the council has a legal duty to find housing for compared to this time last year.  These are the people considered to be officially statutorily homeless.

These figures are extremely important in highlighting key trends in the causes of homelessness and the divergence between different areas in the country. Perhaps most shockingly, they show a 27% rise in the number of households becoming homeless as a result of the ending of a private rented tenancy. For us, this is particularly worrying considering that for most single people the PRS is the only available route out of homelessness.

Despite being the stats that grab the headlines, it’s important to remember that they fail to capture the true number of people experiencing homelessness.

Who isn’t considered statutorily homeless?

  1. People who are homeless, but not considered priority need. For the 13,520 people who were found to be statutorily homeless between January to March 2015, a further 14,120 were not. Worryingly, almost a fifth of the total number of people who made an application were considered to be unintentionally homeless, but were not owed an offer of accommodation because they were not considered ‘priority need’. We’ve previously blogged about the incredibly high threshold someone who is single and homeless has to reach in order to be considered a priority for housing. This means that single homeless people are rarely found to be statutorily homeless. There is potential for this number to increase in light of the recent Supreme Court judgment on vulnerability, but we won’t notice this for some time yet.
  1. People who don’t make a homeless application. When we mystery shopped  local authorities last year, in 29 of the 87 visits made the people presenting as homeless weren’t even offered the opportunity to make a homelessness application. This was despite the fact that a number of them were presenting as extremely vulnerable characters (people with learning difficulties and people fleeing domestic violence), who could have easily been considered priority need. People in this situation won’t appear anywhere in these statistics.
  1. People assisted via the homelessness prevention and relief route. In the year 2013/14, 52,000 people were recorded as statutorily homeless. By comparison a far greater number of people, 228,000, were assisted via the prevention and relief route. Taken together a total of 280,000 households approached their local authority because they were experiencing homelessness. In the next couple of weeks, the government will publish the homelessness prevention and relief statistics. Combining both of these figures provides us with a much more accurate picture of the total number of people who approach their local authority for help.

Despite the clear importance of these figures in showing the true number of people experiencing homelessness, the prevention and relief statistics are only published annually and feature far less prominently. What’s more, the information collected tells us far less about the households who are assisted or what happens to them in the long term.  With more and more people being assisted in this way, it’s vital this is collected in the same level of detail and reported on as frequently to capture the true scale of homelessness.

The mystery shopping research also reminds us that too many people are being denied the opportunity to make a homelessness application or aren’t being provided with proper advice and assistance in the first place. That is why Crisis will continue to campaign to ensure that no one is turned away from their council when they approach them for help.