Local authorities’ duties

Local authorities in England have a statutory duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who fall into a ‘priority need’ category. There is no duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people.

Trends in statutory homelessness over 2020/21

In the 2020/21 financial year, local authorities recorded around 282,000 homelessness prevention or relief duties owed to households following an initial assessment. About 119,000 of these were prevention duties while around 149,000 were relief duties.

The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on the homelessness work carried out by local authorities; this is reflected in the statistics for 2020/21.

The number of households owed a prevention duty was around one-fifth lower in 2020/21 than the year before. This is likely to be due to Government action to prevent evictions during the pandemic. The number of households becoming homeless due to the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the private rented sector fell by 41%.

The number of households owed a homelessness relief duty was 6% higher than in 2019/20. The largest rise in relief duties came in the April-June 2020 period, when the number of relief duties owed were 17% higher than a year previously.

Much of this rise was due to the ‘Everyone In’ programme which tasked local authorities with accommodating people at risk of rough sleeping. The majority of households owed a homelessness relief duty were single adults (without children); this group was the primary driver behind the increase in cases.

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 that benefit reforms have made it more difficult for them to secure housing for eligible applicants. This is 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 (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.

Calls for additional measures

The Government’s Evaluation of the Implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act: Final Report (September 2020) recorded successes alongside recommendations to improve ongoing implementation (see section 4.1 of this paper).

Calls from the sector include:

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