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Beyond the numbers: The scale of youth homelessness

21 February 2023

Youth homelessness figures for the UK are up 6%

Centrepoint’s new report, Unaccounted: The Scale of Youth Homelessness in the UK, provides an update on the youth homelessness situation in the United Kingdom, which reveals a devastating increase in the number of young people seeking support because they were homeless or at risk.

According to our estimates, based on figures provided by local authorities and devolved administrations, 129,000 young people in the UK approached their council seeking help with homelessness in 2021/2022 – a 6% increase on the previous financial year. However, it’s important to bear in mind that not everyone approaches their local authority for support and many more 16- to 24-year-olds are living in situations of hidden homelessness, so our estimate likely underrepresents the real size of the issue.

To find out how many young people faced homelessness in your local area, visit the Youth Homelessness Databank.

What's the scale of youth homelessness across the UK?

In England, 112,500 young people presented as homeless or at risk of homelessness to their local authority in 2021/2022, an increase of 8,100 (8%) from the previous year. Northern Ireland and Wales experienced a decrease, while Scotland had a slight increase.

Within England, six of the nine regions saw an increase in the numbers of young people presenting to their local authority as homeless or at risk. Of these, the East Midlands and London saw the biggest increase of 49% and 20% respectively from the year before. The only regions in England to experience a decrease were the North East (-24%), the South West (-9%), and Yorkshire and the Humber (-6%).  

With these new figures in mind, we estimate that around one in 55 young people aged 16-24 is homeless or at risk of homelessness in the United Kingdom. Among the four devolved nations, England has the highest rate of youth homelessness (1.89%), followed by Wales (1.77%), Northern Ireland (1.59%), and Scotland (1.27%). A young person in England is 49% more likely to be homeless or at risk of homelessness than a young person in Scotland; 19% more likely than in Northern Ireland; and 7% more likely than Wales.

Are homeless young people getting the help they need?

According to our estimates, almost a third of the young people who approached their local authority seeking support have not even been assessed for eligibility. This means around 40,000 young people didn’t get the chance to see whether they may be eligible for support, let alone receive the support itself.

While 61% of the young people who presented as homeless or at risk of homelessness were offered a prevention or relief duty, this does not always equate to them receiving the support they’re entitled to. In fact, only 38% of the presentations from young people were resolved successfully by local authorities in England, resulting in the young person being housed or being owed a main housing duty. Unfortunately, our data shows that the proportion of young people who had a positive outcome in their homelessness application has not substantially improved over the years since the Homelessness Reduction Act has been in force.

Our data also shows a significant gap in assessment rates between Predominantly Urban and Predominantly Rural local authorities (70% vs. 58%). Similarly, in Predominantly Rural local authorities, only 34% of the homelessness cases of young people were successfully prevented or relieved, while 39% of the cases had positive outcomes in Predominantly Urban areas.

Young person stood outside on a road with fencing and road signs in the background.

129,000 young people in the UK approached their council seeking help with homelessness in 2021/2022

Main reasons for youth homelessness

The latest data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows that the top five reasons for young people losing their last settled home and facing homeless are:

  1. Family no longer willing or able to accommodate (46%);
  2. Domestic abuse (11%);
  3. Eviction from a private, social or supported housing tenancy (7%);
  4. Friends no longer willing or able to accommodate (6%);
  5. Non-violent relationship breakdown with partner (4%).

Since the pandemic, domestic abuse has become an even bigger driver of homelessness, compared to 9% in 2020/2021 and 8% in 2019/2020. Perhaps most shockingly, this latest data reveals that young women are five times more likely than young men to be homeless or at risk due to domestic abuse.

With the eviction ban firmly in place during the pandemic, there were 2,870 evictions across the 2020/21 financial year. However, 2021/22 saw that ban lifted and, as to be expected, a far higher number of young people – a total of 3,674 – were threatened with evictions from private, social or supported housing. This is a staggering 28% increase.

What can we learn from youth homelessness numbers?

In order to end youth homelessness for good, we need a comprehensive picture of the issue, and the current demand for services. Unfortunately, right now government statistics do not cover this. H-CLIC – the government’s data tracking tool for homelessness statistics – does not incorporate the number of presentations, reporting only the numbers of assessments and homelessness duties given in the journey of the Homelessness Reduction Act. Put simply, this means the government is blind to the scale of the demand before young people reach the assessment stage.

Having the number for presentations would give a more accurate reflection of the number of people seeking help from local authorities and would represent the first step in being more aware of the issue. As our analysis has shown, almost a third of presentations do not reach the formal assessment stage and so these people remain only a number in our databank, having been erased by the government data.  

This is just one of the recommendations suggested in our report to help end youth homelessness for good. Read the other recommendations, and see even more of the shocking statistics by reading our report: ‘Unaccounted: the scale of youth homelessness in the UK’.