Local authorities in England have a statutory duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who fall into a ‘priority need’ category. There’s no duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. This paper explains trends in statutory homelessness and the Government’s approach.

Trends in statutory homelessness over 2021/22

In the 2021/22 financial year, local authorities recorded around 278,000 homelessness prevention or relief duties owed to households following an initial assessment. About 133,000 of these were prevention duties while around 145,000 were relief duties.

The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on the homelessness work carried out by local authorities. In April-June 2020, the number of households owed a prevention duty fell by almost a third compared with the previous year. This is attributed to Government measures aimed at reducing evictions during the pandemic. The number of relief duties rose by 18% over the same period, in part because of instructions to local authorities to provide housing for rough sleepers.

The number of households owed a prevention duty has sarted to return to pre-pandemic levels. The number owed a prevention duty in 2021/22 was 11% higher than in 2020/21. The increase has primarily been driven by households with children, particularly those threatened with homelessness due to the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the private rented sector.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) collects data on the outcomes of households owed a homelessness duty by their local authority. Around two-thirds of all households owed a duty in 2021/22 either had accommodation secured or were owed a statutory ‘main duty’ to secure accommodation.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households in a priority need group. This duty isn’t assessed until the initial prevention and relief duties have elapsed.

Longer term trends

Statutory homelessness started to rise in 2010/11 for the first time since 2003/04. This is attributed to several factors, of which the most important is identified as a continuing shortfall in the delivery of new affordable housing relative to levels of need. Housing Benefit reforms are viewed as a significant contributory factor, particularly in London. In addition to contributing to levels of homelessness, local authorities in areas of high housing demand argue benefit reforms make it more difficult for them to secure housing for eligible applicants. This was reflected in one of the key findings recorded in The homelessness monitor: England 2019.

A commitment to tackle homelessness

The Government is putting tackling homelessness and rough sleeping “firmly at the heart” of its agenda. The focus is on implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and supporting the delivery of more affordable homes. The Public Accounts Committee (PDF, 2017), said the Act would help, but needed to be matched by “a renewed focus across government” to tackle supply and affordability of decent housing.

Local authorities received increased funding over 2020/21 to tackle homelessness during the pandemic – there was a particular focus on protecting rough sleepers. The Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 confirmed an increase in spending over pre-pandemic levels to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness:

SR21 provides £639 million resource funding by 2024-25, a cash increase of 85% compared to 2019-20. This brings total funding to £1.9 billion resource and £109 million capital investment over SR21.

On 5 December 2022 a “top up” of £50 million in homelessness prevention funding was announced for local authorities in England over 2022/23, This brings total homelessness prevention funding in 2022/23 to £366 million.

Calls for additional measures

The Government’s Evaluation of the Implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act: Final Report (PDF, September 2020) recorded successes alongside recommendations to improve ongoing implementation. Local authorities and homelessness organisations have highlighted the risk of cost of living increases to levels of homelessness. Calls from the sector include:

Related posts