4.The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publishes three sets of data on homelessness: statutory homelessness, prevention and relief and rough sleeping. On 30 June 2016, statutory homelessness and prevention and relief were combined into a single release. Local authorities owe a statutory duty under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended) to secure suitable accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who are in a priority need category. This is often referred to a ‘main homelessness duty’ (we consider this in greater detail in Chapter 4). The 30 June release shows that between 1 January and 30 March 2016, local housing authorities received 29,120 applications for assistance. Of these, 14,780 households were accepted as being owed the main homelessness duty – a nine per cent increase on the same quarter in the previous year. London saw a particular rise, with a thirteen per cent increase from Q1 2015 (4,390) to Q1 2016 (4,940).
5.The DCLG also collects data on prevention and relief efforts by local authorities, which are now included in the same statistical release as statutory homeless figures. Homelessness prevention involves councils helping people to avoid homelessness through measures such as helping them to secure alternative accommodation or to stay in their current home. Homelessness relief is when an authority has been unable to prevent homelessness but has helped someone to secure accommodation, even though it was not under a legal obligation to do so. According to the 30 June release, an estimated 212,600 cases of homelessness prevention or relief took place outside the statutory framework in England in 2014/15—of these 198,100 were estimated to be preventions and 14,400 cases of relief. The total number of cases of homelessness prevention and relief increased by 38 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14 from 165,200 to 228,400, before falling back to 212,600 in 2015/16.
6.The Department’s other set of homelessness statistics records levels of rough sleeping. Rough sleeping counts and estimates are single night snapshots of the number of people sleeping rough in local authority areas. Local authorities decide whether to carry out a count or an estimate. According to the data, the autumn 2015 total of street counts and estimates in England was 3,569, an increase of 30 per cent from the 2014 figure of 2,744. In 2015 44 local authorities conducted a count and 282 provided an estimate. London’s total in 2015 was 940 rough sleepers, or 26 per cent of the total figure for England.
7.DCLG’s statistics suggest that homelessness is increasing. However the scale of homelessness is greater than that captured in the statistics. Witnesses from leading charities argued that they only show the formally documented cases. Kate Webb from Shelter told us that:
overall there is very poor recording of who is homeless. This is largely because a lot of people try to self-serve and will sofa-surf or stay with friends and family for as long as possible … The best figures we have are on people who are accepted by their local authority and are owed the full rehousing duties … Local authorities should be recording everyone who approaches them as homeless, but we know that often some people are sent out of the door first, so they never make it onto the books.
8.Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, believed that the CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) database in London gave a far more useful picture of rough sleeping:
The national rough sleeping figure is a snapshot taken by local authorities on one night, the vast majority of whom estimate as opposed to count. In London there is a 365-days-a-year database that has information inputted. We have long argued that CHAIN should be rolled out nationally to get a truer picture of rough sleeping across the country. The information in London is much better and up to date.
9.CHAIN is a multi-agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London and is commissioned and funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and managed by St Mungo’s. While the DCLG’s figures on rough sleeping are based on rough sleeping counts and estimates carried out on one night in October and November each year, CHAIN is a continuing record of all contact by outreach teams, every day of the year. According to the most recent CHAIN report, between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 8,096 people seen sleeping rough in London—far more than the 940 reported in the DCLG’s autumn 2015 figures on rough sleeping. CHAIN also breaks numbers down into three categories: flow (new rough sleepers: 5,276 people in 2015/16), stock (rough sleepers for at least two consecutive years: 1,828 people in 2015/16) and returner (previous rough sleepers who have returned to the streets: 992 people in 2015/16). This allows services to identify trends such as that the greatest proportional increase between 2014/15 and 2015/16 was in the stock group (from 1,595 in 2014/15 to 1,898). Intervention efforts and services can therefore focus on addressing their needs.
10.In December 2015 the UK Statistics Authority published an assessment of the DCLG’s data, which found that the figures were not robust enough, that only the statutory homeless figures could be considered ‘national statistics’, and that the other two releases were “potentially misleading”. The assessment also concluded that presenting the statistics as three separate statistical reports with no coherent narrative to draw the statistics together, or to place them in context, diminishes their value.
11.The Department told us that it would be considering the recommendations made by the Statistics Authority in planning future work. When we asked Marcus Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Local Government), about the statistics, he replied:
[DCLG] officials are currently working with the UK Statistics Authority to try to improve the statistics that we have further. For example, we are currently looking at publishing prevention and relief statistics together, to give a clearer picture of how homelessness prevention and the number of people who are owed the homelessness duty work … the better data that they have, the better we can do with prevention.
12.We welcome the commitment to improve the data collected on homelessness, and note the recent publication of combined data on statutory homelessness along with prevention and relief data. When we sought confirmation from the Minister that all of the Government’s homelessness statistics would reach the standard required by the Statistics Authority by the end of the year, he was not able to give us that assurance. It is essential that the Government collects reliable statistics to guide decision makers and influence policy. The Government must take steps to improve data collection and implement the recommendations of the UK Statistics Authority as a matter of urgency. The aim should be to ensure that figures capture trends more accurately to reflect more than just the total number of homeless people, and the approach taken by CHAIN should be rolled out further across the country. The scale of hidden homelessness must also be appreciated: people who are homeless but have not approached local authorities for help and those who do seek help but are turned away before a formal application is made (discussed further in Chapter 4) are still homeless and should be taken into account in national statistics. The DCLG should give consideration to how this group can be captured effectively in the data it collects. We will monitor the Department’s progress improving their statistics, and will return to the issue in twelve months’ time.
3 Department for Communities and Local Government, Statutory homelessness, January to March 2016, and homelessness prevention and relief 2015/16: England, 30 June 2016
4 Department for Communities and Local Government, Statutory homelessness, January to March 2016, and homelessness prevention and relief 2015/16: England, 30 June 2016
5 Department for Communities and Local Government, , February 2016, p2
6 Qq2-3 [Kate Webb]
7 Q2 [Howard Sinclair]
8 Greater London Authority, , June 2016, pp3-4
9 UK Statistics Authority, , December 2015
10 Department for Communities and Local Government () para 40
3 August 2016