Worrying trends in homelessness

All the conditions were there and it was only a matter of time before the homelessness figures start to grow again.

All of the critical indicators of homelessness have now turned upwards after many years of decline.

The number of households accepted by local authorities between April and June 2011 was 11,820, a rise of 17% from 10,100 in the same quarter last year.  This is a very significant change in trend.

The rise in acceptances feeds through slowly into the number of households in temporary accommodation, but even this figure has started to rise again – up in the last quarter after 26 successive quarters of reduction, during which it fell from a peak of over 100,000 to less than 50,000.  In London, 35,620 households were in temporary accommodation at the  end of June 2011, just under three quarters of the total for England.

For those of us who lived through the bed and breakfast crisis of the 1980s, it is extremely worrying to see the numbers increasing significantly again.  From a low of 1,880 at the end of 2009 it is now back up to 3,120.  The number of families with children in B&B, which troughed at 400 at the end of 2009, is now back up to 1,210, a rise of over 60% on the year.  The consistent success in bringing this figure down, from a peak this century of
14,000 in 2002 (of which nearly 7,000 were families with children) has been brought to a halt.  One reason is that the use of private sector leased accommodation is declining.

With regard to the reasons for homelessness, the increase between 2009/10 and 2010/11 of 4,140 in the number of households accepted (40,020 to 44,160) is largely explained by two factors: relatives and friends (other than parents) being no longer able or willing to provide accommodation, which increased by 960 (5,000 – 5,960) and the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy, which increased by 2,050 (4,580 – 6,630).  Given the increasing reliance on private rented accommodation, the latter increase is a sign of things to come.

The apparent success in tackling homelessness since 2004 has not always been what it seems.  There were huge changes in policy and approach which put much more emphasis on managing demand.  This was a mixture of excellent practice – in the development of housing options services and homelessness prevention work – and the less excellent practice of diversion – securing private rented accommodation for households before they even registered as homeless, thereby keeping them out of the statistics.

Of the 164,000 households where action was successful in preventing homelessness in 2010/11, more than 82,000 were assisted in obtaining alternative accommodation, predominantly private lets.  This was the precursor of the current government’s policy to allow councils to discharge their homelessness duty by securing private rented accommodation against the wishes of the applicant.  Despite the best efforts of councils, many suspect that the policy of placing homeless households into private lets will lead a revolving door of insecurity and repeat homelessness.

Detailed homelessness statistics (live tables) are available here.

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