Failure to Act: the scale of youth homelessness in the UK

Executive summary

Young people facing homelessness are amongst the most vulnerable individuals in our society. At critical moments in their lives, timely and effective support from councils and their partners can help young people to find stable homes, complete their educational programmes and start professional careers.

However, if these opportunities are missed, homelessness can rob young people of the chance to successfully transition into adulthood, pushing some in to a vicious cycle of exclusion and deprivation.

Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank monitors the number of young people presenting to their local authority as homeless or at risk of homelessness across the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales data broken down by age is collected at a central level and sourced from the devolved governments. However, in England data is unavailable at the national level, meaning that it is collected through Freedom of Information requests to individual local authorities.

Centrepoint estimates that 135,800 young people in the United Kingdom approached their council for help as they were homeless or at risk of homelessness during the financial year 2022/23. This means that the number of young people who asked for help from their local council because they were homeless or at immediate risk of homelessness has increased for the sixth year in a row.

While the figures for the devolved nations have decreased for the last three years, with the exception of Scotland which experienced an increase this year, English councils recorded an increasing number of young people presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness. Furthermore, England currently has the highest youth homelessness rate amongst the four nations, with around 1 in 50 people aged 16-24 homeless or at risk of homelessness.

In 2017, the Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced, expanding the statutory duties of local authorities by requiring them to prevent and relieve homelessness – in addition to providing the main housing duty. In 2018, the government also published a Code of Guidance that set out expectations for local councils in implementing the HRA. This states that: “if there is reason to believe that they may be homeless or threatened with homelessness”, the local authority must carry out an assessment to verify the eligibility of the person approaching the council.

Unfortunately, as in previous years, our data suggests that more than a third of the young people who approached their local authority in England were not assessed for eligibility.

Moreover, since the HRA has been in force, there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of young people receiving an assessment, going from 79 per cent in 2018/19 to 65 per cent in 2022/2023.

As in previous years, our data shows a very concerning picture regarding the proportion of young people having a positive outcome after presenting as homeless or at risk to their local authority. In 2022/23 in England, only 33 per cent of those who presented had a positive outcome. This percentage has not substantially changed since the implementation of the HRA, suggesting that the HRA process is failing to successfully address the housing needs of six in ten young people who present as homeless or at risk.

Family breakdown remained the main cause of homelessness amongst young people owed a duty by their local authority. In 54 per cent of cases, family or friends no longer willing or able to accommodate was named as the main reason why young people owed a homelessness duty lost their last settled home, compared to 52 per cent in 2021/22.

Our data also shows that one in nine young people are homeless or at risk due to domestic violence (11%). This is especially concerning for young women, who are five times more likely to be homeless or at risk because of domestic abuse than young men.

Finally, as expected due to the lifting of the eviction ban implemented during the pandemic, we recorded a 40 per cent increase in evictions as the leading cause of homelessness for young people (9% of young people owed a duty).

Once again, the Youth Homelessness Databank highlights how important it is to have robust data to understand the scale and nature of youth homelessness. At present in England, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) does not publish age disaggregated data for all stages of the HRA process, instead publishing data only for those accepted as being owed a prevention or relief duty. This means that the government is unable to properly examine youth homelessness and how these trends vary across the country.

The big discrepancy between the number of young people presenting as homeless and those being assessed demands urgent attention from government and local authorities.

Therefore, we strongly urge the Westminster and devolved governments to begin collecting presentation and/or initial interview figures from local authorities to understand the true scale of demand from vulnerable young people. Without this, we risk missing information on thousands of young people who are approaching their local authorities for assistance, making it less likely that the government will develop solutions to tackle youth homelessness.

Key findings and recommendations

At national level:

1. The government should create a new cross-departmental strategy to end youth homelessness. This should ensure that there is a youth specific emergency housing offer in every local authority so that young people facing homelessness can access age-appropriate accommodation up to the age of 25.

2. Introduce a new Youth Independence Payment for young people living independently without family support. This would raise their overall Universal Credit entitlement to the rate that over 25s receive, supporting them with their living costs, preventing them from getting into arrears and facing homelessness as a consequence.

3. Uprate the current Local Housing Allowance rates, taking into account latest data on inflation in the private housing market and making sure they are aligned with the 30th percentile in all the broad rental market areas (BRMA). With the recent inflationary pressure on rents, the private rented market has become inaccessible for many young people who are receiving benefits, therefore uprating LHA is crucial to widen the housing options that are accessible to young people.

In both England and the devolved nations:

4. The government should require local authorities to report the number of homelessness presentations to give a fuller picture of levels of demand among young people (and older groups). In England, this should be added as a new required field on H-CLIC (the system used to record data related to the HRA). This would give a more accurate reflection of the number of people seeking help from local authorities, as our analysis has shown that a significant proportion of presentations do not reach the formal assessment stage.

5. The government should launch a national awareness campaign on homelessness, reaching at-risk individuals, especially those in hidden homelessness situations, making them more aware of their rights under the HRA.

In England, we call on the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities to:

6. Make publicly available all H-CLIC data broken by age to enable the government and those working in the homelessness sector to better understand how effectively the HRA is supporting young people. In the longer-term, we encourage the Department to make all H-CLIC data searchable via an online tool (similar to the Stat-Xplore tool used for the Department for Work and Pensions data) which would enable more detailed analysis of trends in youth homelessness. Moreover, it would allow for an analysis of differences between subgroups of young people (segmented by categories such as gender and ethnicity), thereby providing national and local government with the means to ensure that funding and commissioning of services are more closely linked to needs and outcomes.

7. To ensure that all young people who are facing homelessness get the support they need from local authorities, the Homelessness Code of Guidance should be amended to clarify the obligations of local authorities at the presentation, initial interview, and assessment stage to ensure that all local authorities are aware of what is and is not acceptable practice. In doing this, they should delineate a) the factors a local authority must take into account and b) what constitutes a realistic burden of proof when the Homelessness Code of Guidance states that a local authority must only have “reason to believe” a person is homeless or at risk to get an assessment. This should cover what forms of evidence or burden of proof is acceptable to require at this early stage of the HRA.

8. The government should review local delivery of the HRA and adherence to the Homelessness Code of Guidance to ensure the intentions of the Act are made a reality across the country, with a particular focus on rural areas. This should include a review of the timing of support to ensure that young people get an initial interview and assessment in line with the urgency required by their situation. Where local authorities are not fully carrying out their statutory duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act, DLUHC should work closely with them to address problems and support them to improve systems where required.

Local authorities should:

9. Make sure, through training and communication, that all relevant local agencies working with young people, including local education providers and third sector organisations, are aware of referral procedures for homelessness support (even if they do not have a legal duty to refer).

10. Consistently adopt models of best practice in supporting young people, particularly by having a youth-specific homelessness prevention and relief service (or specialist worker in smaller authorities). This could be delivered in-house or in partnership with the voluntary sector, but must be focused on tailoring the service to the distinct needs of young people facing homelessness.

Icon of a young homeless person carrying a backpack

Stats and facts

See our latest Databank figures, the only central source of UK youth homelessness statistics beyond the figures on statutory homelessness and rough sleeping collected by government.

Data on youth homelessness