Homelessness in England

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A homeless man in Chatham, Kent.

In England, local authorities have duties under the Housing Act 1996 and the Homelessness Act 2002 towards some homeless people. This situation is described as statutory homelessness.

"Non-statutory homelessness" covers people who are considered by the local authority to be not eligible for assistance, not in priority need or "intentionally homeless".[1]

Reasons for homelessness[edit]

In 2007/2008, the Office of the Deputy for Homelessness Statistics produced a table which showed some of the more immediate reasons for homelessness in England.[2] These were not underlying reasons but before the onset of homelessness. These reasons were given by the minister's report for 2007/2008 as:[3]

  • 37% - Parents, family, or friends no longer willing or able to accommodate
  • 20% - Loss of private dwelling, including tied accommodation
  • 19% - Breakdown of relationship with partner
  • 4% - Mortgage arrears
  • 2% - Rent arrears
  • 18% - other

The longer term causes of homelessness in England have been examined by a number of research studies. These suggest that both personal factors (e.g. addictions) and structural factors (e.g. poverty) are responsible for homelessness. A number of different pathways into homelessness have been identified. [4] There are additional factors that appear to be causes of homelessness among young people, most notably needing to face the responsibilities of independent living before they are ready for them [5]

Government treatment of the homeless[edit]

All local authorities in England have a legal duty to provide 24-hour advice to homeless people, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless within 28 days.

One of the homeless residents of London. Covent garden area. Southampton Street (a side street of the Strand).

A local authority must accept an application for assistance from a person seeking homelessness assistance if they have reason to believe that the person may be homeless or threatened with homelessness. They are then duty bound to make inquiries into that person's circumstances in order to decide whether a legal duty to provide accommodation and assistance is owed. "Interim accommodation" must be provided to those that may be eligible for permanent assistance pending a final decision. If the local authority decides that a person is homeless but does not fall into a priority need category, then a lesser duty shall be owed which does not extend to the provision of temporary accommodation. If the authority decides that a person is homeless and priority need but became homeless intentionally then the authority must secure that accommodation is available for such a period as will give the person reasonable time to find long term accommodation, which can extend to provision of temporary accommodation. The local authority shall in all the above cases be lawfully obliged to offer advice and assistance.

Certain categories of persons from abroad (including British citizens who have lived abroad for some time) may be ineligible for assistance under the legislation.

A person does not have to be roofless to qualify legally as being homeless. They may be in possession of accommodation which is not reasonably tenable for a person to occupy by virtue of its affordability, condition, location, if it is not available to all members of the household, or because an occupant is at risk of violence or threats of violence which are likely to be carried out.

If the applicant qualifies under the five criteria (that they are not ineligible for housing, such as a person subject to immigration control; that the applicant is statutorily homeless or threatened with homelessness; that they are of 'priority need'; that the applicant is not intentionally homeless; and that the applicant has a local connection) then the local authority has a legal duty to provide accommodation for the applicant, those living with them, and any other person who it is reasonable to reside with them. However, if the applicant does not have a local connection with the district of the authority then they may be referred to another local authority with which they have a local connection (unless it is likely that the applicant would suffer violence or threats of violence in that other area).

People have a priority need for being provided with temporary housing (and a given a 'reasonable preference' for permanent accommodation on the Council's Housing Register) if any of the following apply:

  • they are pregnant
  • they have dependent children
  • they are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or a fire
  • they are aged 16 or 17 (except certain care leavers [orphans, etc.] who remain the responsibility of social services)
  • they are care leavers aged 18–20 (if looked after, accommodated or fostered while aged 16–17)
  • they are vulnerable due to:
    • old age
    • a physical or mental illness
    • a handicap or physical disability
    • other special reason (such as a person at risk of exploitation)
  • they are vulnerable as a result of
    • having been in care (regardless of age)
    • fleeing violence or threats of violence
    • service in one of the armed forces
    • having served a custodial sentence or having been remanded in custody.

The accommodation may not necessarily be provided by the council and even where the "full" duty is owed the housing provided may at first be temporary accommodation: often bed and breakfast hotels are used for temporary accommodation, and Housing Associations for permanent accommodation.

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.
  • In an emergency, a person contacts a local council.

Street Link[edit]

A national service to help members of the public obtain near-immediate assistance for rough sleepers was established in 2012, with the support of the Government (as housing is a devolved matter, the service only extends to England at present). 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 the referral line number on 0300 500 0914. Someone who finds themselves sleeping on the streets can also report their situation using the same methods.

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 after 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.

The 2010 pilot for the service operated in London under the title No Second Night Out, which has been gone on to become the brand name used for the service in certain other council areas. Since the start in 2010, a number of charities have provided the core functions of the service in London:

  • Thames Reach runs the London Street Rescue Service which provides support to people sleeping on the streets of the capital,
  • Broadway Outreach Teams provide services on the streets in the particular areas of Kensington and Chelsea, The City, and Heathrow Airport.

It is important to note that the Streetlink service is for those who are genuinely sleeping on the streets, and not those who may be begging, or living their life on the streets and have a place to sleep at night such as a hostel or supported accommodation


The official figures[6] from the Department for Communities and Local Government for England are that on average 498 people sleep rough each night, with 248 of those in London. There are a total of 84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) that are classified as homeless. [7][when?]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "About homelessness". Homeless Link. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Homelessness Statistics, "Reasons for Homelessness in England", 2005/2006.
  3. ^ "Housing needs, homelessness and lettings", UK Housing Review 2007/2008, University of York, England.
  4. ^ Harding, Irving and Whowell,"Homelessness, Pathways to Exclusion and Opportunities for Intervention", 2011, The Cyrenians and Northumbria University School of Arts and Social Sciences Press.
  5. ^ Harding, 2004, "Making it Work: the Keys to Success Among Young People Living Independently", 2004, Bristol: The Policy Press.
  6. ^ "Homelessness Statistics September 2007 and Rough Sleeping – 10 Years on from the Target" September 2007 Department for Communities and Local Government: London
  7. ^ Branigan, Tania, "Rough sleepers unit 'is fixing figures'", Saturday November 24, 2001, Guardian (UK)

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