No expectations: access to and experiences of social and private accommodation for homeless young people

  • Author: Frankiebo Taylor, Senior Policy and Research Officer
  • Reading time: 4 minutes

Executive summary

Over the last few decades, social housing has become increasingly inaccessible for young people with experiences of homelessness.

This is because the nation’s social housing stock has been depleted through policies such as the 1980’s Right to Buy Scheme, while not being replenished at a proportionate rate. Similarly, private renting has become progressively more inaccessible due to increased rates of rent, growing competition and landlord discrimination.

As such, young people, particularly those with experiences of homelessness and who rely on benefits as their main source of income, are frequently blocked from the private rented sector.

This research explores these conditions by investigating the accessibility of social and private rented sector accommodation for young people experiencing homelessness in England.

To achieve this, the research first examines the social rented sector by analysing social housing supply and demand. The research then explores the private rented sector, by investigating its affordability and accessibility.

This report explores homeless young people’s access to social and private rented accommodation using the following methods: a survey of front-line staff working for 30 organisations supporting over 800 young people across England; interviews with homeless young people and local authority staff; a comparison between social housing allocations and main housing duty rates (2021-22 & 2022-23) to show how local authorities are meeting homeless young people’s need for social housing; and an analysis of LHA rates.

Key findings

Social housing

  • Over the financial years 2021/22 and 2022/23 in England, there was a 3.3 per cent shortfall between the average percentage of young people who were entitled to social housing and the average percentage allocated to social housing in England.
  • When examining the two years separately, there was a 3 per cent improvement in the average shortfall for 2022/23 compared to 2021/22. This may be explained by the net increase in social homes between 2021/22 and 2022/23.
  • In particular, there was a 9 per cent increase in one bedroom general needs social homes - the type of homes that the majority of young people with experiences of homelessness will likely access.

Over a third of respondents said that damp and mould was often an issue with the social homes offered to young people.

Private rented accommodation

  • 78 per cent of survey respondents reported that young people have become somewhat or much less able to afford their rent in the past year.
  • 89 per cent of survey respondents said that the cost of renting in the private rented sector is an extreme barrier for homeless young people.
  • The majority (84 per cent) of survey respondents said the need for a guarantor and to pay rent upfront are extreme barriers for young people trying to move on into the private rented sector.
  • Nearly all young people and stakeholders who were interviewed highlighted that discrimination from landlords was a barrier to accessing private rented accommodation.

Current LHA rates only cover the full cost of renting the cheapest 25 per cent of private sector rooms in 7 out of 211 local authorities in 2022/23.


For Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

  • Incentivise the development of more social homes, with a particular focus on studio and one bedroom homes. Additionally, there should be a focus on developing social homes on brownfield and city centre sites with consideration of access to important amenities for tenants.
  • Ensure the amendment to the Renters (Reform) Bill which outlaws income discrimination is implemented swiftly to ensure that young people in receipt of benefits are able to access the private rented sector. Additionally, the government must ensure that this ban is regulated and landlords are held accountable.
  • Limit the number of months of rent in advance which landlords and letting agents can request; and ban the requirement of guarantors so that young people with limited funds and without access to a guarantor can access private rented accommodation.
  • Target capital funding grants at enabling organisations to buy/rent land which can be developed in to Stepping Stone Accommodation for vulnerable young people.

Department for Work and Pensions

  • Continue to expand the proportion of the housing market available to young people, by keeping LHA rates in line with the 30th percentile of current market rents.

Local authorities

  • Ensure that homeless young people are considered a priority for social housing. Young people who are owed a main housing duty should be allocated to social housing.
  • Ensure that all young people who are facing homelessness get the support they need from local authorities by amending the Homelessness Code of Guidance (HCG) to clarify the obligations of local authorities at the presentation, initial interview, and assessment stages.
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