Half the increase in homelessness results from the private rented sector
Last week saw the publication of the latest set of homelessness statistics. The number of households in temporary accommodation in October-December 2012 is 9% up on the same time the previous year. It is important to note that ‘homeless’ in these statistics does not mean ‘sleeping rough’ but the legally homeless that the local authority has a duty to house. Much of the growth in homelessness comes from the private rented sector.
The number of households being accepted as homeless in England has increased from 42,000 in 2009 to 53,000 in 2012, as the graph below shows. This increase is undoubtedly bad news - homelessness represents an acute situation. But it is important to note that before 2009 the number accepted as homeless had been falling quite sharply for 6 years in a row and now, even after three years of increase, the number is still lower than that in 2008 just before the trough.
But the reasons for homelessness are also changing. As the graph shows the number of households becoming homeless due to the end of a short-hold tenancy (when a contract with a private landlord is ended) has more than doubled from 4,600 in 2009 to 11,200 in 2012 – this is growing much faster than homelessness generally. The reason for this could be that landlord was unwilling to renew the lease or the rent had become too expensive to afford.
It is also possible that this is a consequence of the LHA caps introduced for the private rented sector in 2011 – between 2011 and 2012 alone the number of homelessness acceptances from short-hold tenancies increased by 2,700 - this accounted for more than half of the increase in homelessness last year. In which case, the policy could be moving some people out of private renting and into temporary accommodation, which may ultimately be more of a drain on the public purse. But as DCLG does not produce regional breakdowns, it is hard to assess this hypothesis in much detail.
Despite this growth, the end of assured short-hold tenancies still isn’t the largest reason for loss of home. Whilst in 2012 it accounted for 21% of homelessness acceptances, friends and relatives no longer being willing or able to provide accommodation was the reason in 32% of cases.
There is also a worrying trend to be seen in the types of temporary accommodation being used. The total number of people living in bed and breakfast accommodation has been increasing: since its low in 2009 of 1,900 it has more than doubled to reach 4,000 in 2012.
The growth in B&B temporary accommodation will likely get the most coverage in the press and rightly so, it’s a worrying and dramatic trend and worthy of attention. But the increase in homelessness from the private rented sector is also telling. Given that the number of people in poverty in the private rented sector has doubled in the last ten years, this is quite possibly the consequence of having large number of low income families in a tenure that lacks security. In addition, given that low income private renters are likely to be hit badly by welfare reforms this is not a trend that looks likely to reverse.