New homeless stats – what do they tell us?

Posted On: 
11th January 2019

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published its latest statistics on homelessness in England. Senior Library Clerk Cassie Barton explains the new system for collecting data – and what the figures tell us  

The Homelessness Reduction Act means local authorities must now assess whether a household needs help to prevent or relieve homelessness.
Credit: 
PA

What’s changed?

The latest statistics report on the quarter from April to June 2018 and reflect two simultaneous changes:

  • The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA) came into force on the 3 April 2018, giving local authorities new homelessness duties.
  • Local authorities are now using a new statistics recording system known as H-CLIC (Homelessness Case Level Information Collection).

This means that the figures aren’t comparable with MHCLG’s previous quarterly homelessness statistics series, but they do provide some new information. Before we explore the statistics, we will briefly look at these changes and what they mean.

What does the Homelessness Reduction Act do?

Local authorities in England now have a duty to work to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants. Eligibility is based on an applicant’s immigration status. They are required to work with eligible applicants to develop a personalised plan setting out the steps they and the authority need to take to secure or retain accommodation. The aim is to reduce street homelessness and the need to place certain households (i.e. those in a priority need category) in temporary accommodation.

The ‘full rehousing duty’ owed to those who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need (e.g. households with children or vulnerable adults) remains unchanged, but by focusing more prevention and relief work at an earlier point, it is hoped that fewer households will reach this stage.

What is H-CLIC?

H-CLIC is a new statistical system for local authorities to collect homelessness data and report back to MHCLG. The department has said the aim is to provide more detailed, case-level statistics on homelessness – for example, data on the ages and genders of household members and their employment and benefit status. Previously, only household-level data was available.

This first release doesn’t contain any case-level data and has been designated as ‘experimental statistics’ while MHCLG works on data quality issues.

There has been some criticism of the way the new system has launched. Academics from the University of Nottingham report that, while local authorities recognise the long-term benefits of H-CLIC, the new statistics “are likely to under-represent how many people were homeless in this period”. Some local authorities have failed to return data, while the returns of many others “are incomplete or contain errors because they haven’t yet got to grips with the new system”.

MHCLG report that 322 out of 326 local authorities provided a response, of which some were partial responses. In some parts of the release, it has made estimates to scale up the available data to a national total.

What do the new figures tell us?

Around 60,000 households needed prevention or relief

The HRA means local authorities must now assess whether a household needs help to prevent or relieve homelessness.

Households that are threatened with homelessness within 56 days are owed help from the local authority to prevent homelessness and the authority must work to relieve homelessness for those who are actually homeless. The local authority doesn’t have to provide accommodation but should support households to retain their accommodation or find an alternative.

Local authorities report that decisions were made on 64,960 households, of which 58,660 were assessed as being owed a prevention or relief duty. Of these, 57% were owed a prevention duty and 43% were owed a relief duty.

This figure under-reports the national total because it doesn’t include the six local authorities that didn’t submit a report to MHCLG. MHCLG also note a number of inconsistencies in the ways local authorities reported this data, so the figures should be treated with caution.

Not many local authorities reported owing a ‘main duty’

If a household is unintentionally homeless and in priority need, then the local authority owes ‘a full or main rehousing duty’. However, effective prevention and relief work might reduce the number of cases that reach this point.

The duty to relieve homelessness expires after 56 days for households that are owed a main rehousing duty. MHCLG’s statistics only record households as being owed a main duty after this 56-day period has elapsed.

The number of main duty decisions and acceptances reported by MHCLG is considerably lower than in previous years. We know that:

  • Local authorities made decisions about 11,630 households, 58% fewer than the same quarter a year previously.
  • They accepted a main duty for 6,670 households, 51% fewer than the same quarter a year previously.
  • The majority of the ‘accepted’ households (6,110) had applied before the HRA came into force but didn’t have a decision made until this quarter.

There are several potential reasons for this drop:

  • One is the 56-day delay in recording main duty decisions. Many households who approached their local authority in the April-June period won’t have their main duty decision recorded until the next quarter.
  • Prevention and relief activities may have successfully resolved households’ issues in some cases, meaning a main duty isn’t triggered.
  • The data quality issues reported by MHCLG could be affecting the total.

The number of households in temporary accommodation is growing

Statistics on the number of households in temporary accommodation are more comparable with previous releases.

Households can be placed in temporary accommodation in several different circumstances – for example, they might be awaiting a decision on their application, or owed a main duty and waiting for accommodation to become available.

There were an estimated 82,310 households in temporary accommodation at the end of June 2018, up 5% on the same date in 2017.

Many households apply from the private rented sector

The new statistics also record where households were living at the time that they approached their local authority for help. Private renting was the most common type of accommodation – 30% of households owed a duty were in the private rented sector.

Almost half of households had support needs

The HRA requires local authorities to assess the support needs of homeless households. 47% of households owed a duty had support needs of some kind. The chart below shows some of the most common types of needs (note that households can have more than one support need).

What data will we get in the future?

MHCLG’s intends for its releases to become more detailed as local authorities get to grips with their new duties and with H-CLIC. The releases should eventually include case-level data, although a timescale hasn’t been announced for this. Over time, a clearer picture of how the Homelessness Reduction Act is working may emerge.  

Cassie Barton is a Senior Library Clerk at the House of Commons Library, specialising in housing and planning.