This briefing provides information on trends in the number of empty homes in England and outlines local authorities’ powers to tackle empty housing and other relevant initiatives. It also discusses Government action on this issue.
The motion put down for debate on homelessness is:
That this House notes with concern that the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England has more than doubled since 2010 and that the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation has risen to 127,000; further notes that the number of people dying homeless in England and Wales has risen to 726 people a year; recognises that by contrast there was an unprecedented fall in homelessness under a Labour Government by 2010; and calls on the Government to take action to end rough sleeping and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness starting by making 8,000 homes available for those with a history of rough sleeping, restoring funding for local housing allowance, and re-investing in local homelessness services, including £100m a year for emergency accommodation to save lives this winter.
1. Homelessness in England
Local authorities in England have a duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who fall into a ‘priority need’ category under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended). There is no duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people.
Under the Homelessness Act 2002, all local authorities must have in place a strategy for the prevention of homelessness and for securing that sufficient accommodation and support are or will be available for people who become homeless.
The current Government has committed to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament in 2024 – three years earlier than the previous Government’s commitment – and “continue to support those at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping through the continued enforcement of the Homelessness Reduction Act”.
Since 2015, Conservative Governments have implemented a range of measures intended to reduce homelessness and tackle rough sleeping. These include:
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which came into force on 3 April 2018, placed new duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness for all eligible homeless applicants – authorities’ advice and assistance duties were also strengthened. The Government provided £72.7 million to authorities between 2017/18 and 2019/20 in respect of the new duties, and has committed a further £63 million in Homelessness Reduction Grant for local authorities in 2020/21. The Act forms a major part of the Government’s approach to tackling homelessness.
The Government launched a call for evidence into the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 in July 2019 – a final report is expected in March 2020. On 23 April 2019 the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee conducted a one-off evidence session on the Homelessness Reduction Act – One Year On.
The Rough Sleeping Strategy
The Government established a Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce, supported by a Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, to design and implement a cross-government strategy to end rough sleeping. The Rough Sleeping Strategy, published in August 2018, is based on a range of ‘prevention’, ‘intervention’ and ‘recovery’ measures and backed by £100 million in funding. In December 2018 the Government published a delivery plan setting out progress and next steps.
Key measures outlined in the Strategy include:
- Up to £45 million in 2019/20 to continue the work of the Rough Sleeping Initiative – targeted at local authorities with high levels of rough sleeping.
- Up to £17 million to fund ‘Somewhere Safe to Stay’ pilots to rapidly assess the needs of people at risk of rough sleeping and support them to get the right help.
- A £50 million Move On Fund to deliver a new supply of homes outside of London for people who are sleeping rough, as well as those who are ready to move on from hostels or refuges and need additional support.
- £28 million to pilot the Housing First approach for long-term rough sleepers in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Liverpool.
- A requirement for local authorities to publish updated homelessness and rough sleeping strategies by winter 2019.
- A review of the Vagrancy Act 1824, as part of a wider review of homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, to report by March 2020.
The Government has committed £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the spending review period to April 2020, with a further £422 million allocated in 2020/21.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the Rough Sleeping Strategy have been welcomed by stakeholders.
Local authorities continue to face funding pressures, with some concern that the costs to local authorities of implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 have been underestimated.
There are ongoing concerns that broader factors such as the shortage of affordable housing and welfare reforms, in particular the freezing of Local Housing Allowance rates from April 2016, continue to impact on levels of homelessness.
2. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Housing policy is a devolved matter and some divergent approaches to homelessness are emerging. For information on homelessness in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland see Part 6, below.
3. Statistics (England)
Official statistics document some aspects of homelessness, but it’s difficult to provide a comprehensive estimate of the number of homeless people. The homelessness charity Crisis has estimated that 153,000 people were homeless on a given night in 2017.
There were 86,130 households living in temporary accommodation (TA) at the end of June 2019, up 5% on the same date a year previously. These households included a total of 127,370 children.
The chart below shows trends in the number of households in TA since 1998. Use of temporary accommodation peaked in 2004, then fell year-on-year until 2011. Since then it has increased each year.
The available data also indicates that rough sleeping is on the rise. Local authorities produce figures on the number of people sleeping rough on a ‘given night’ in autumn each year. The figures are based on either a count on a single night, or estimates in collaboration with local agencies. The figures are understood to provide a limited snapshot rather than a comprehensive picture of rough sleeping.
The 2018 figures recorded 4,677 rough sleepers, a similar number to the 4,751 recorded a year before. On this measure, rough sleeping has increased 165% since 2010.
4. Recent press releases and announcements
UK (excluding Scotland)
Crisis, ‘Over 70% of public think arresting people sleeping rough is a waste of police time’ [Freedom of Information request to Police Forces on the number of arrests under the Vagrancy Act 1824], 23 January 2020
Shelter, ‘Government’s plan to raise LHA in line with inflation is nowhere near good enough‘, 14 January 2020
Crisis, ‘It was like a nightmare- the reality of sofa surfing in Britain today’, 23 December 2019
Shelter, ‘A child becomes homeless in Britain every eight minutes’, 3 December 2019
Albert Kennedy Trust, ‘GE 2019 Statement [on LGBTQ+ homeless]‘
Stonewall, ‘LGBT in Britain: Home and Communities’, 2018
England and Wales
Local Government Association, ‘Briefing: Opposition Day Debate Homelessness’, 29 January 2020
Office for National Statistics, ‘Deaths of homeless people in England and Wales: 2018’, 1 October 2019
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), ‘Boost to succesful government rough sleeping programme’, 28 January 2020
Department for Work and Pensions & MHCLG, ‘Jobcentres to receive new £3 million fund to support homeless people’, 13 January 2020
MHCLG, ‘Local Government Minister’s speech at the LGA’s local government conference 2020’, 7 January 2020
Local Government Ombudsman, ‘Ombudsman highlighting the human cost of poor benefit practice’, January 2020
MHCLG & 10 Downing Street, ‘Prime Minister pledges new action to eliminate homelessness and rough sleeping’, 23 December 2019
Local Government Association (LGA), ‘LGA responds to homelessness funding announcement’, 23 December 2019
LGA, ‘LGA responds to crisis report on sofa surfing’, 20 December 2019
Shelter, ‘280,000 people in England are homeless, with thousands more at risk’, 18 December 2019
LGA, ‘LGA responds to latest homelessness statistics’, 18 December 2019
UK Statistics Authority, ‘Statement on homelessness statistics’, 9 December 2019
St Mungo’s, ‘Nearly 9,000 places disappear from vital homelessness services following a decade of cuts’, 4 December 2019
St Mungo’s, ‘Assessing the impact of Housing First in Brighton and Westminster’, December 2019
Shelter, ‘Homelessness crisis costs councils over £1bn in just one year’, 14 November 2019
St Mungo’s, ‘Is the Homelessness Reduction Act doing enough to prevent rough sleeping?’, November 2019
Public Health England, ‘Grant awarded to improve the health of people sleeping rough’, 22 October 2019
NHS England, ‘Rough sleepers in homeless hotspots to benefits from NHS mental health services’, 14 October 2019
LGA, ‘Housing crisis- spending on B&Bs for homeless rockets since 2010’, 12 October 2019
LGA, ‘LGA responds to launch of No Homeless Veterans Campaign’, 24 September 2019
Stoll, ‘Stoll invites Local Authorities to support No Homeless Veterans Campaign’, 24 September 2019
Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘The Homelessness Monitor: England 2019‘, Fitzpatrick, S., Pawson, H., Bramley, G., Wood, J., Watts, B., Stephens, M. & Blenkinsopp, J., May 2019
Children’s Commissioner, ‘Bleak houses: Tackling the crisis of family homelessness in England’, August 2019
St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, ‘Local authority spending on homelessness: Understanding recent trends and their impact‘, WPI Economics Limited, April 2019
Welsh Government, “Homelessness doesn’t always live on the street”- major new campaign launched to tackle hidden homelessness’, 6 January 2020
Welsh Government, “We’re determined to end homelessness in Wales”- Julie James’, 7 December 2019
Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government, ‘Response to the report and recommendations from the Homelessness Action Group’, 15 October 2019
Homelessness Action Group, ‘Report October 2019‘, 15 October 2019
Minister for Housing and Local Government, ‘Oral statement: homelessness’, 8 October 2019
Llamau, ‘Out on the streets- LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness in Wales’, August 2019
Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘The Homelessness Monitor: Wales 2017‘, Fitzpatrick,S., Pawson, H., Bramley, G., Wilcox, S., Watts, B., Wood, J.
Housing and Social Justice Directorate, ‘Ending homelessness action plan: annual report’, 14 January 2020
Scottish Government, ‘Progress made on tackling homelessness’, 14 January 2020
Scottish Government, ‘Pet-friend accommodation services’, 27 November 2019
Housing and Social Justice Directorate, ‘Homelessness in Scotland 2018 to 2019- equalities breakdown’, 19 November 2019
Scottish Government, ‘Tackling homelessness together’, 7 November 2019
Scottish Government, ‘Homelessness: code of guidance’, 7 November 2019
Scottish Government, ‘Extra money to combat homelessness’, 10 October 2019
Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘The Homelessness Monitor: Scotland 2019‘, Fitzpatrick,S., Pawson, H., Bramley, G., Wilcox, S., Watts, B., Wood, J., Stephens, M. & Blenkinsopp, J.
Simon Community, ‘Response to New Decade, New Approach’, 23 January 2020
NI Department for Communities, ‘Housing Statistics 2018-19’, 3 December 2019
Scope NI, ‘Homelessness is more than one issue’, 20 November 2019
Simon Community, ‘Homeless deaths: caused by failures to think and act strategically?’, 2 October 2019
Fact Check NI, ‘Are there 100,000 adults in Northern Ireland with no home?’, 16 July 2018
Northern Ireland Audit Office, ‘Homelessness in Northern Ireland’, 21 November 2017
Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘The Homelessness Monitor: Northern Ireland 2016‘, Fitzpatrick, S., Pawson, H., Bramely, G., Wilcox, S. & Watts, B.
5. Recent news articles
‘New body to tackle homelessness in Glasgow’, The Herald, 27 January 2020
‘The homeless fund: domestic abuse to blame for forcing women onto the streets’, The Independent, 20 January 2020
‘Shelter Scotland drops legal action against Glasgow Council over homelessness’, Glasgow Times, 14 January 2020
‘Families driven to homelessness by housing benefit errors by local council watchdog warns’, The Independent, 9 January 2020
‘The homeless fund: LGBT+ young people forced out of their homes’, The Independent, 7 January 2020
‘More than 10,000 homeless for tenth month in a row’, The Times, 3 January 2020
‘More than 12,000 children in Scotland homeless at Christmas’, The Scotsman, 23 December 2019
‘Homeless in NI: “This could happen to anybody”, BBC News NI, 21 December 2019
‘Could we end homelessness in Scotland?’, BBC News, 19 December 2019
‘Are more people sleeping rough in Scotland?’, BBC News, 18 December 2019
‘Northern Ireland homeless deaths are more than a quarter of UK total with 205 people dying in 18 months’, Belfast Telegraph, 18 December 2019
‘Visits to A&E by homeless people treble since 2010’, The Times, 12 December 2019
‘Glasgow City Council homelessness service under scrutiny’, STV, 10 December 2019
6. Library Briefings
The House of Commons Library has produced briefings on homelessness in the UK:
- Statutory Homelessness in England, 2019
- Rough Sleeping (England), 2019
- Households in temporary accommodation (England), 2019
- Local authority homelessness statistics (England), 2019
- Rough sleepers: access to services and support (England), 2019
- Housing first: tackling homelessness for those with complex needs, 2018
- Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 2018
The library has also published dashboards on:
- Housing supply in each English local authority
- House prices in each English & Welsh constituency
- Housing tenure in each UK constituency
The Scottish Parliament Information Service has produced a briefing on Homelessness in Scotland (2019).
The Welsh Assembly has published ‘What’s being done to end homelessness in Wales’ (2019) and Helen Taylor, on an academic fellowship with the National Assembly for Wales Research Service, published the comparative Approaches to the use of priority need testing in UK homelessness legislation across the UK (2019).
The Northern Ireland Research and Information Service has published The many faces of homelessness in Northern Ireland (2017) and What do we know about homelessness in Northern Ireland? (2016).
Housing market: Data on house prices, mortgage approvals and house-building.
This House of Commons Library briefing paper outlines temporary measures to assist homeowners to manage their mortgage payments during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. It considers lenders’ obligations towards homeowners who are struggling with their mortgage payments, outlines possible sources of advice for mortgagors, and discusses the mortgage support schemes that were introduced in response to the 2008 financial crisis.