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Homelessness figures hiding disturbing picture

Headline homelessness figures are hiding a disturbing picture of increasing suffering, according to analysis from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

Although homelessness numbers have remained fairly stable over the past year, the numbers of people sleeping rough and living in temporary accommodation have both increased, as well as the number of repossessions by landlords. And the number of households being placed in temporary accommodation outside their local authority area has jumped by more than a third.

The analysis comes from CIH’s UK Housing Review (UKHR) Briefing – an update to the UKHR 2014, which brings together evidence from a range of sources to assess the health of the UK’s housing system.

The briefing, which is being launched at Housing 2014, CIH’s annual conference and exhibition in Manchester, also includes updates on welfare reform, house prices, the mortgage market, affordable house building, the private rented sector and right to buy.

According to the latest government figures released last week (19 June), 52,260 people were accepted as homeless during the 2013/14 financial year, down three per cent from 2012/13.

But 58,590 households were in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2014, six per cent higher than at the same date in 2013. The number of households in temporary accommodation in another local authority district rose by 36 per cent, from 9,130 to 12,430.

As the review makes clear, the pressures leading to homelessness are not letting up. Repossession claims by landlords reached their highest level (47,220) in more than a decade in the first quarter of 2014. Two-thirds of repossession claims are by social landlords, suggesting increased levels of action to tackle rent arrears.  This could be down to tougher sanctions on claimants of jobseeker’s allowance, which reached a peak of 241,469 cases in the third quarter of 2013 and fell only slightly in the fourth quarter to 239,587.  If people lose their jobseeker's allowance for three months, they also lose their housing benefit and may well lose their house.

The latest count of people sleeping rough across England showed that in Autumn 2013 there had been a five per cent increase in numbers, to 2,414, following on from a six per cent increase the previous year. Broadway’s  ‘CHAIN’ data, restricted to London but measuring levels of rough sleeping throughout the year not just as a one-off count, showed 2,029 people sleeping rough in January-March 2014, an eight per cent increase on the same period last year. Numbers of those new to sleeping rough had risen by 12 per cent

CIH chief executive Grainia Long said: “The slight fall in statutory homelessness is of course welcome, but that headline figure hides a disturbing picture of suffering for increasing numbers of vulnerable people.  It is extremely worrying to see increases in the number of people living in unsuitable temporary accommodation – in many cases outside their local community – and being forced to sleep on the streets.”

The UK Housing Review 2014 is sponsored by Affinity Sutton, Broadland, Crisis, HouseMark, L&Q, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Orbit Housing Group, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

Orbit chief executive Paul Tennant said: “The evidence that we are facing a housing crisis in this country is stronger than ever. We need a long-term housing strategy which recognises housing as a key pillar of this country's social & economic infrastructure, backed by investment in a range of housing which is affordable, including intermediate products like shared ownership. Let’s not forget, the impact of this crisis is real and on thousands of people’s lives.”