The Centrepoint Youth Homelessness Databank significantly increases the information that is publicly accessible on youth homelessness by collecting council level data to build a more informed national understanding of the problem. This report presents an analysis of data collected by local authorities in 2018/19, which was the first year of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA).
The Youth Homelessness Databank highlights the scale of youth homelessness in the UK. In 2018/19, an estimated 110,000 young people approached their local authority because they were homeless or at risk. This is only part of the total picture of youth homelessness. We need a complete picture to fully understand youth homelessness and how to end it. To do this the collection and publishing of data by central government must continue to be updated and improved year on year.
Youth homelessness will not be ended without an approach that takes into account the myriad factors that contribute to it, both within council housing services and beyond in the wider community. Whilst the HRA is a framework that has extended homelessness support to a substantially wider range of people, the Act alone will not end homelessness as it does not address wider structural causes.
The structural and staff changes taken forward by many local authorities has led to a positive culture change. This must continue as the ethos of the Act fully embeds and local authorities refine and embed their new practices.
Whilst the first year of the HRA brought significant challenges relating to IT issues, interviews that Centrepoint conducted with councils suggest that these concerns are being addressed.
The Act has also brought significant administrative burdens. The language used in letters to applicants has proved complex and not at all user friendly, particularly for the most vulnerable claimants. More work is needed to ensure applicants receive tailored information that is easy to understand. Long term funding commitments are also needed so that local authorities can plan service delivery in the long term and ensure these services are adequately resourced.
Parts of the HRA and associated guidance have been vague. Now that the prevention and relief approach of the Act is becoming embedded in the work of local authorities, MHCLG should publish guidance in order to clarify and explicitly state requirements. This will mean that there is regional consistency to the support offered.
Key findings and recommendations
Five variables had a statistically significant relationship with the scale of youth homelessness, providing insight into the link between homelessness and wider factors. The five factors reflect wider evidence on the drivers of youth homelessness:
- House prices: the ratio of median house price to median gross annual residence-based earnings was a proxy measure for the impact of the lack of affordable housing. A 1 per cent increase in housing affordability corresponded with a 0.37 per cent increase in the presenting figure for young people.
- Housing waiting lists: to account for the demand for accommodation, the number of households on the council housing waiting list was used. A 1 per cent increase in the number of households on the housing waiting list corresponded with a 0.16 per cent increase in the presenting figure for young people.
- Social housing stock: the number of social rented units owned by the local authority was used to account for the decline in social housing. A 1 per cent increase in the number of social units corresponded with a 0.10 per cent increase in the presenting figure for young people.
- Child poverty: the percentage of children under 16 living in families in receipt of out of work benefits or tax credits where their reported income is less than 60 per cent median income was used to understand the effect of poverty on homelessness. An increase of 1 per cent in the number of children in low income families corresponded to a 0.17 per cent increase in the presenting figure for young people.
- Welfare: the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance plus those who claim Universal Credit and are required to seek work and be available for work was used to account for the unfavourable nature of the labour market. An increase of 1 per cent in the number of claimants aged 16-24 corresponded with 0.60 per cent increase in the presenting figure for young people.
- Central government should commit to extending the one-year Homelessness Reduction Grant allocation until the end of parliament, and calculate it in line with local needs and demand.
A longer-term Homelessness Reduction Grant funding settlement will allow councils to take a longer-term approach to the commissioning of their homelessness services, fully enacting the positive ethos of the HRA.
- The government should launch a national online information hub, providing information about how to present to each local authority if homeless or at risk.
Approaching the council for help can be confusing without clear guidance about the process. An online information hub is essential, providing the address of each council to present in person alongside a phone number and email address as well as providing general advice for applicants.
- MHCLG should review all written communication sent to applicants including Personal Housing Plans and notification letters to ensure they are clear and accessible to all audiences.
Communication sent to applicants has been described as confusing, too numerous, and difficult to understand. Reviewing and streamlining communication would empower applicants to fully understand and engage in the HRA process.
- The Government should assess the feasibility of fast tracking applicants who are priority need upon initial assessment straight to the main housing duty assessment, enabling the most vulnerable to get the main housing duty much quicker.
The HRA aims to prevent or relieve homelessness upstream. However, local authorities expressed frustration at being unable to provide a main duty immediately for some of the most vulnerable claimants, who they felt would be better supported under the main duty.
- MHCLG should add presentations to the list of data points collected by local authorities as the number of initial assessments is not a true representation of the scale of people seeking help.
As there is drop off between presenting to the council and the initial assessment, MHCLG should collect and publish presentation data to highlight the true scale of homelessness. Having both data points would also reveal whether all those who present are receiving the initial assessment they are entitled to.
- MHCLG should publish data on an online interactive tool that would enable more analysis of homelessness trends, including demographic breakdowns.
An interactive data tool similar to Stats Wales’s homelessness tool, or DWP’s Stat-Xplore, would enable H-CLIC data to be more easily turns into actionable insights that will help services, including councils, charities, and government departments to make data informed decisions