In 2016/17, the number of homelessness acceptances across London was 18,100. This marked a decline from the highest number of acceptances in a decade from the previous year (19,200). This is the first year acceptances have declined, rather than increased, since 2009/10.
These figures reflect statutory homelessness (those who the local authority has determined are legally entitled to assistance). To be accepted as statutorily homeless by the local authority you must be found legally and unintentionally homeless, be eligible for assistance (based on citizenship and/or immigration status) and in priority need (the most common reasons to be found in priority need are having children in the household or meeting the criteria for ‘vulnerability’ through age or health issues). Given this strict definition, there are probably far more homeless households than the number recorded as receiving assistance. In practice, local authorities interpretation of the scope of who is eligible under the law also varies widely, which is one of the reasons for the differing numbers of homeless acceptances in 6.4 below.
In addition to the 18,100 households accepted as homeless and in priority need, a further 11,700 households were found to be eligible but not accepted because they were found to be not homeless (5,100 households), intentionally homeless (2,600 households), or not in priority need (4,000 households). However, figures are not published for the number of people who are found not eligible. Research from Crisis also found that many London boroughs use a variety of ‘gatekeeping’ techniques to prevent people from making a homeless application.* It is impossible to estimate how many people are prevented from making an application in this way in London every year.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill, which received Royal Assent in April 2017 (and will come into force next year), requires local authorities to help all eligible applicants, not just those in priority need. This could potentially lead to a large rise in the number of people applying to local authorities (by making it more difficult for councils to ‘gatekeep’) and receiving help.
The number of homelessness acceptances peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with 30,000 homeless acceptances in 2003/04. This fell to 2009/10 when it hit a low of 9,400, following years of more proactive homeless prevention across England. After 2009/10 the number of homeless acceptances rose again.
The reasons for homelessness have changed since this rise began, with the greatest increases in homelessness as a result of the end of a shorthold tenancy, up from 900 in 2009/10 to 7,000 in 2016/17. In 2009/10, friends or family being no longer willing or able to accommodate a homeless individual or family was the most common reason for homelessness in London among those accepted as homeless by local authorities, making up 44% of the total, while the end of a shorthold tenancy made up 10% of the total. By 2016/17, 39% of those accepted as homeless were homeless as a result of the end of a shorthold tenancy.
While this has been an increasingly important reason across the rest of England as well, its share of homelessness acceptances resulting from this is lower at 27%, having been higher than the London rate throughout much of the 2000s and as recently as 2010/11.
Homeless acceptance figures show that ethnic minorities have a greater risk of statutory homelessness. In 2016/17, over half of statutorily homeless households were BME, despite BME people making up only 41% of the population of London. Black or Black British households made up the largest number of homeless households (5,900) and the largest proportion (33%) of any ethnic group.
* Dobie, S., Sanders, B. & Teixeira, L. (2014) Turned Away: The treatment of single homeless people by local authority homelessness services in England. London: Crisis.