15.The Department for Communities and Local Government (the Department) does not know the full extent of homelessness. It counts rough sleepers only once a year, and this count does not include people who usually sleep rough but are in a hostel on the night of the count. It does not measure the number of individual people in a homeless household, nor the number of people who are homeless and hidden from view in overcrowded accommodation. The Department also acknowledged that it has not recently conducted the modelling necessary to estimate the costs and causes of homelessness. We heard from Homeless Link, which set out some of the limitations of the Department’s current data system, stating that: “due to the nature of homelessness and with a significant proportion of it being hidden, it is difficult to have accurate data on the numbers of individuals and households who are homeless. No one can say with any degree of confidence how many homeless people there are in England at any one time”.
16.The Department is implementing a new national data system. It is placing a lot of reliance on this new system, telling us that “next year, for the first time, we will be able to have proper data on cases of homelessness. We will be able to link for the first time someone’s journey through the system … for the first time we will able to take that [system-wide] view, because we will have proper system-wide comparable data”. The Department asserted that this system-wide view will enable it to compare its own data on homeless people with data held on those people by other government departments, to learn more about the causes of homelessness and how to prevent it, and the wider costs of homelessness to the public sector.
17.The Department agreed that it is clear that the real long-term answer to homelessness is to have good quality social housing at affordable rents. The overall stock of social housing has been falling in recent years. For example, in the 11 local authorities that the National Audit Office (NAO) interviewed, the number of social homes available to rent fell from 177,000 to 169,000 between 2010 and 2016. The Department told us that it was “constantly pressing harder on councils to build all sorts of homes in their areas” and that it was “seeing planning permissions go up, but we are not seeing them rise by enough”. We are concerned that this pressure on local authorities is not always effective, particularly where the local authority does not have an adequate supply of land for development, or where viability assessments by private developers are used to avoid making the locally required contribution to the supply of genuinely affordable homes. The supply of new homes is a major target for the Department, yet its response to our concerns was that it can “only agree that these are really significant problems to solve”.
18.The Department has recently announced new initiatives and additional funding that are intended to increase the supply of genuinely affordable accommodation. It will allow some local authorities to borrow more money in order to build more homes from its Housing Revenue Account and it has opened up its Affordable Homes Programme to allow local authorities to bid alongside housing associations for social rent homes. The Department’s stated intention is to target areas where the affordability pressures are greatest and where local authorities have both a clear ambition to build and a plan to do so.
39 Q 74, , para 1.6
41 Homeless Link (), page 1
43 , para 3.10
45 , para 2.3
18 December 2017