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Charities across the youth homelessness sector are calling on the Government to develop a national cross-departmental youth homelessness strategy, informed by young people’s lived experience. These calls follow growing concerns about numbers of young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and the capacity of local authorities to support this age group.

Local authorities do not have to provide accommodation to all households. However, under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, local authorities have to provide some form of help to all eligible households that are homeless or at risk of homelessness within 56 days. They must take reasonable steps to relieve homelessness for homeless households, and to prevent homelessness for at-risk households.

Local authorities report back to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on their activities under these duties. DLUHC publishes statistics which include some data on youth homelessness.

In the 2022/23 financial year:

  • Local authorities owed a prevention or relief duty to around 2,300 households where the lead applicant was 16 or 17 years old, and a further 52,900 households where the lead applicant was 18-24 years old.
  • Together, these households made up around one-fifth (19%) of all households supported by local authorities.

Research by the charity Centrepoint suggests there were around 119,000 people aged 16-24 who were homeless or at risk of being homeless in 2022/23. Centrepoint estimates that this is an increase of 6,800 (+6%) compared to 2021/22 (112,500) and a 14% increase on 2020/21 (104,400). These figures are higher than the official total published by the Government because it includes all household members, not just lead applicants. It also counts those who were not formally assessed for a prevention or relief duty.

Recent research conducted by WPI Economics for Centrepoint suggests that local authorities in England require an additional £332m, to help them meet their legal obligations to assess and potentially support young people who were not assessed last year.

Causes of youth homelessness

Government-commissioned research has identified a combination of structural and individual level drivers of youth homelessness, including:

  • Relationship breakdown between young people and their family, or their primary caregivers, is a leading cause of youth homelessness
  • Financial hardship
  • Impact of welfare reforms including sanctions, and the capping of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) for under-35s.
  • Labour market pressures
  • Mental and physical health issues
  • Lack of affordable housing

LHA rates determine the level of entitlement someone can receive to support with their housing costs in the private rented sector. For more information, see Commons Library research briefing, Local Housing Allowance (LHA): Help with rent for private tenants (21 December 2023).

Issues highlighted by the sector

A range of contemporary issues have been identified as having a particular impact on young people, increasing their risk of experiencing homelessness. These include:

Government policy

The current Government has committed to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament in 2024, and “continue to support those at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping through the continued enforcement of the Homelessness Reduction Act”. The Government are investing almost £2.4 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping between 2022 and 2025.

This briefing provides information on the issue of youth homelessness and provides and overview of relevant homelessness legislation, official Government statistics and Government policy. Housing policy is a devolved matter and some divergent approaches to homelessness have emerged over the last decade. Information on youth homelessness in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is also provided in this debate pack.

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