Number and condition of homeless people
The UK homeless charity Shelter estimated in 2017 that the number of people in the UK who were entirely homeless or in temporary accommodation was 300,000. Rough sleepers are only a small proportion of the homeless. Crisis estimates there are roughly 12,300 rough sleepers in the UK and also 12,000 people sleeping in sheds, bins, cars, tents and night busses. The figure is derived from research by Heriot-Watt University. Homeless people sleeping in bins are sometimes crushed to death by compacting machinery or otherwise killed when bins are collected and dealt with by waste disposal companies.
According to figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government, the number of people registered as homeless with local councils was just over 100,000 in 1998, rose to 135,000 in 2003 before declining in the years up to and during the Great Recession. After a low of 40,000 in 2009 and 2010, the figure rose to just under 60,000 in 2017. The number living in temporary accommodation rose from 50,000 in 1998 to 100,000 in 2005, declining back to 50,000 in 2011, then rising to 80,000 in 2017. The number of rough sleepers was 4,800 in 2017 compared to 1,800 in 2010, when comparable records begin. Crisis attributes rising homelessness to a shortage of social housing, housing benefits not covering private rents and a shortage of homeless prevention schemes for people leaving care.
Of the homeless people who died in 2017, the average age was 44 for men and 42 for women. Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse are the most common causes of death among homeless people.
History of homelessness support
Major instances of homelessness in the history of the United Kingdom have included:
- the Highland Clearances and Lowland Clearances in Scotland (19th century)
- the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852)
- intimidation during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), including the destruction of country houses
- strategic aerial bombing during Second World War, including the Blitz (1940-1941), the Baby Blitz (1944) and the V-weapons offensive (1944-1945)
- the North Sea flood of 1953 (resulting in 30,000 people becoming homeless)
- the 1969 Northern Ireland riots (around 1,800 families made homeless) and subsequent intimidation during and following the Troubles
Historically, homelessness support was provided by monastic communities but after the Reformation, governmental support was provided by means of the poor law, which differed in England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland; though under the same Crown for most of this time, these were different jurisdictions. Eventually, a system of elected local authorities replaced the looser organisation of disparate local administrative bodies, including poor law unions.
- Build 100,500 social homes a year to address the needs of homeless people and those on low income.
- Introduce Housing First nationally providing homes and specialized support for homeless people.
- Improve rights for private renters and improve housing benefit.
- The care system, hospitals, prisons should be legally required to help find homes for those leaving their care.
- There should be homelessness specialists at Job Centres.
Causes of homelessness
The longer term causes of homelessness have been examined by a number of research studies. A number of different pathways into homelessness have been identified; research suggests that both personal factors (e.g. addictions) and structural factors (e.g. poverty) are ultimately responsible for the sequence of events that results in homelessness. For young people, there are additional factors that appear to be involved, most notably needing to face the responsibilities of independent living before they are ready for them. Rising cost of housing and increasing job insecurity have also been identified as contributing factors.
Modern Governmental Assistance
Policy on homelessness is overseen by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Homes and Communities Agency in England, the Scottish Government Housing and Social Justice Directorate, the Welsh Government, and the Department for Communities and Northern Ireland Housing Executive in Northern Ireland. It has been a devolved policy area outside England since the introduction of devolution in the 1990s. The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 focused national attention on homelessness and housing quality, and resulted in around 255 people becoming homeless overnight. Half of young people at risk of homelessness in the UK who approach their local authority, get no significant help.
All Local Housing Authorities (LHAs) in the United Kingdom have a legal statutory duty to provide 24-hour advice to homeless people, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless within 28 days. Once an individual applies to the appropriate City Council, Borough Council, District Council or Unitary Authority for assistance, from a person claiming to be homeless (or threatened with homelessness), the Local Housing Authority is also legally duty bound to make detailed inquiries into that person's circumstances, in order to decide whether they meet the criteria, which are defined as statutory homelessness. For people meeting such criteria, the Local Housing Authority therefore has a legal statutory duty to find Temporary Accommodation for the person, and then provide them with assistance to find a permanent, long term adequate dwelling, that will usually be within the Private Rented Sector (PRS), but sometimes will be a property with a Housing Association, a council house, or a council flat.
A person suffers statutory homelessness if governmental regulations oblige the council to provide housing-related support to the person. At present this criteria is met if (and only if) all of the following conditions are true:
- they do not have a permanent home
- the person is not prevented from accessing UK public funds by immigration laws
- the person has a local connection to the local authority's area (this could, for example, be the residential presence of family, friends, or previous residence of the person themselves)
- the person unintentionally become homeless (this does not include eviction for non-payment of rent)
- the person is in priority need; this condition has been abolished in Scotland since the start of 2013, and there are campaigns for it to be abolished in the rest of the UK.
The definition of priority need varies between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but generally includes any of following conditions being met:
- a dependant child
- an age of 16-17
- aged 18–20 and leaving local authority care
- vulnerability due to
- old age, or
- mental illness, or
- mental/physical disability
- leaving the armed forces
- leaving prison
- fleeing, or at the risk of, domestic violence
- homelessness due to an emergency (such as flood, fire, or other disaster)
A person does not have to be roofless to legally qualify as lacking a permanent home. They may be in possession of accommodation which it is not reasonably feasible to continue to use by virtue of its affordability, condition, or location. The requirement to have a local connection does not apply if it would lead to the applicant becoming a victim of violence, or at risk of violence.
In Wales, priority need was similarly extended to include individuals who are aged 18 to 20 and at risk of financial or sexual exploitation, but provided they are leaving care.
Temporary accommodation must be provided to those that might be suffering statutory homelessness, pending a final decision. Often bed and breakfast hotels are used for temporary accommodation, unless a suitable hostel or refuge is available. The suitability of temporary accommodation is often a topic of concern for local media, and pressure groups.
If the council concludes that the applicant suffers statutory homelessness then the local authority has a legal duty to find long-term accommodation for the applicant and their household (those dependants who would ordinarily be living with them), and any other person whom it is reasonable to expect to reside with them. The council must offer/continue to provide temporary accommodation to such an applicant, on an immediate basis, until long-term accommodation is found for them.
Long-term accommodation may not necessarily be a socially rented home (one provided by the council, or by a Housing Association); the council can discharge its duty by finding an appropriate private sector tenancy for the applicant.
If the authority decides that a person does lack a home, but does not qualify as suffering statutory homelessness, then a lesser obligation applies.
Where the applicant merely lacks a local connection to the council, the council will usually refer the applicant's case to a local authority with which they do have a local connection. If the applicant is in priority need, but is considered to have become homeless intentionally, the local authority is obliged to provide temporary accommodation for as long as is reasonably necessary for the applicant to find long-term accommodation; this is usually a fortnight, but additional periods of similar length can sometimes be provided at the council's discretion (typically granted in cases of extenuating circumstances).
A national service, called Streetlink, was established in 2012 to help members of the public obtain near-immediate assistance for specific rough sleepers, with the support of the Government (as housing is a devolved matter, the service currently only extends to England). Currently, the service doesn't operate on a statutory basis, and the involvement of local authorities is merely due to political pressure from the government and charities, with funding being provided by the government (and others) on an ad-hoc basis. The UK government has cut funding to local authorities and local authorities feel forced to reduce services for homeless people. It is feared this will increase the numbers of rough sleepers and increase the numbers dying while sleeping rough.
A member of the public who is concerned that someone is sleeping on the streets can report the individual's details via the Street Link website or by calling 0300 500 0914. Someone who finds themselves sleeping on the streets can also report their situation using the same methods. It is important to note that the Streetlink service is for those who are genuinely sleeping on the streets, and not those who may merely be begging, or ostensibly living their life on the streets despite a place to sleep elsewhere (such as a hostel or supported accommodation).
The service aims to respond within 24 hours, including an assessment of the individual circumstances and an offer of temporary accommodation for the following nights. The response typically includes a visit to the rough sleeper early in the morning that follows the day or night on which the report has been made. The service operates via a number of charities and with the assistance of local councils.
Where appropriate, rough sleepers will also be offered specialist support:
- if they have substance misuse issues, they will be referred for support from organisations such as St. Mungo's (despite the name, this is a non-religious charity)
- if they are foreign nationals with no right to access public funds in the UK, repatriation assistance will be offered, including finding accommodation in the home country, construction of support plans, and financial assistance.
At least 50 local authorities have enacted Public Space Protection Orders to deter begging in town centres. Liberty has argued that these ordinances are illegal and that homeless people often lack the access to legal aid needed to challenge them.
Other sources of assistance
Practical advice regarding homelessness can be obtained through a number of major non-governmental organisations including,
- Citizens Advice Bureaus and some other charities also offer free legal advice in person, by telephone, or by email, from qualified lawyers and others operating on a pro bono basis
- Shelter provides extensive advice about homelessness and other housing problems on their website, and from the telephone number given there, including about rights and legal situations.
Official statistics on homelessness for:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Housing in the United Kingdom
- Affordability of housing in the United Kingdom
- Poverty in the United Kingdom
- Museum of Homelessness
- Simon Community
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- BBC Radio 4, "No Home, a season of television and radio programmes that introduce the new homeless.", 2006
- "UK Housing Review", University of York, England
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- Harding, Jamie (2004). Making it work the keys to success for young people living independently. Bristol: Policy Press. ISBN 9781847425942.
- "More than 100,000 homeless households set to be trapped in temporary accommodation by 2020". The Independent. 11 April 2018. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
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- Staff writer (10 July 2017). "Grenfell fire: Police say 255 people survived the blaze". BBC News. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
- Half of young people facing homelessness denied help – report The Guardian
- Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003.
- Butler, Patrick; Laville, Sandra (21 January 2017). "UK council cuts will lead to more people sleeping rough, charities warn". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
- Hundreds of homeless people fined and imprisoned in England and Wales The Guardian
- Legal Aid Agency taken to court for refusing to help rough sleepers The Guardian