On 9 September 2021, MHCLG released the latest statutory homelessness statistics covering the period from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, reports Dr Trent Grassian, research Manager at Homeless Link.
The statutory statistics capture data on everyone who has been assessed under the Homelessness Reduction Act, meaning that since 2018 we have been able to see a much more detailed picture of single homelessness. This is an incredible resource and is easily one of the best sources of homelessness statistics in the world.
However, whilst the Homelessness Reduction Act significantly expanded the number of people eligible for homelessness support from their local authority, the statutory statistics still only capture those who access support from Housing Options services. Therefore, whilst this data helps us understand the wider trends, they will not tell us about those not engaging with support, people experiencing more hidden forms of homelessness or those not entitled to support because of immigration restrictions.
According to the latest statistics, 268,560 households were at risk of or experienced homelessness from 2020-21. While this is a 7.4% decrease from 2019-2020, when 288,470 households were identified, it’s a 16.2% increase from 2018-19:
- 119,400 households that were owed a prevention duty (down 20.0% from 2019-2020). These are people the local authority deems to be at risk of being homeless within 56 days.
- 149,160 households that were owed a relief duty (up 6.1% from 2019-2020). These are people already experiencing homelessness and the local authority will have 56 days to try and provide settled accommodation.
Within the 2020-21 stats, we can see that homelessness has disproportionately affected certain communities, with single households, young people and people of colour (especially those who identify as Black), some of the groups where we are seeing the greatest increases. This includes 119,360 single households who experienced homelessness, including an 11.7% increase in those owed a relief duty from 2019-20.
A main factor in this increase is likely to be the Government’s Everyone In initiative. This also reflects the continuing trend that this group is more likely to be already experiencing homelessness at the time of applying to their local authority for homelessness prevention / relief, while those with children are more likely to be at risk of homelessness. Specifically, while 55.6% of single households were owed a relief duty, the reverse was true of those with children, where 64.5% of applications were for a prevention duty. We are also continuing to see a shift toward younger groups, likely an impact of COVID, with those aged 18 to 24 the only age group to have an increase in those experiencing homelessness (58,830 households), up 1.5% from 2019-20.
Another group that we know was disproportionately impacted by COVID was people of colour. While those who identify as white comprise 84.9% of the population, only 69.6% of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness came from this group. Those who identify as Black were the most overrepresented ethnic group, comprising 9.7% of those owed a homelessness duty, despite representing only 3.5% of the population. In London, those who identify as Black make up 12.5% of the population, but 30.2% of applicants.
The data also identified some key trends around the reasons households ultimately experienced or were at risk of homelessness. In total, 31,180 households experienced or were at risk of homelessness due to domestic abuse, a 17.3% increase from 2019-20. This was also the most common support need for households with children, rising 13.9% to 15,370. Furthermore, 39.0% of applicants or 104,640 households were unemployed, a 18.2% increase from last year.
We have also seen that COVID has had a significant impact in the greater visibility of typically hidden populations, such as those in precarious housing or ‘sofa surfers’. For single households, for instance, the leading cause of homelessness was family or friends no longer being able to accommodate them, which was the case for 26,560 single households, an increase of 11.9% from last year. In addition to these upward trends, we are also seeing decreases in homelessness due to evictions (down 73,7% to 8,940 households) and the ending of AST (assured shorthold private rented tenancy), which is down 41.2% to 33,960 households. However, as this is largely due to the many measures put in place during the pandemic – the majority of which have now ended, it is likely this number will begin to increase, potentially surpassing pre-pandemic figures.
Another potential positive trend was the increase in referrals from those exiting prison (up 58.7%) and the National Probation Service (91.3%), likely due to the introduction of Homelessness Prevention Task Forces in 2020, which may be helping to prevent those who were institutionalised by the state from rough sleeping by connecting them with services.
These statistics show how major policy interventions can have a real impact on homelessness across the country. It’s unsurprising that the number of people accessing statutory homelessness support dropped when one of the main causes of homelessness, private sector evictions, was suspended. Meanwhile, the removal of restrictions through Everyone In encouraged a record number of single people experiencing or at risk of homelessness forward for support.
We have seen a glimpse of how, with political will, homelessness can be greatly reduced. The question is, will the will remain as we start to leave the pandemic behind?