280,000 people in England are homeless, with thousands more at risk

Posted 18 Dec 2019

New figures from Shelter reveal 280,000 people are recorded as homeless in England, an increase of 23,000 since 2016 when the charity first published its landmark annual report.

Shelter’s extensive analysis of official rough sleeping and temporary accommodation figures, along with social services records, shows that in one in every 200 people are without a home. For the first time, its review of government data has also exposed that close to 220,000 people in England were threatened with homelessness in the last year.

Despite being the most comprehensive overview of homelessness in the country, it’s widely known that a lot of homelessness goes undocumented, including sofa-surfing and some rough sleeping. This means the true level of homelessness will be even higher than today’s count. Shelter is warning that unless the new government takes urgent action to address the dire lack of social homes at the crux of this emergency, the situation is likely to get worse.

Alongside its bid to get more social housing built, the charity is calling on the public to support its frontline workers as they grapple with huge demand this Christmas. In the last year, a call was made to Shelter’s emergency helpline every 44 seconds and its free webchat service was used almost 26,000 times.

“As well as those facing serious ill-health or even death sleeping rough on our streets this winter, there are thousands of families trapped in grotty emergency B&Bs, with no space for children to sit and eat, let alone play. This is the grim truth our new government must confront and do something radical to change.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Homelessness blights lives and leaves a lasting imprint of trauma, and yet 280,000 people in England are without a home this Christmas. And many are only days away from joining them.

“Until the government acts to stem this crisis, the work of our frontline advisers remains critical. With the public’s support we will do everything we can to help people find a safe and stable place to live – no matter how long it takes.”  

The charity’s report, ‘This is England: a picture of homelessness in 2019’, identifies the local areas across the country where homelessness is most acute. London - where private rents are notoriously expensive - comes out worst, with 1 in 52 people now homeless in the capital. Newham tops the list where it is 1 in 24, followed closely by Haringey and Kensington and Chelsea (both 1 in 29).

Outside the capital, rates of homelessness are stark in areas such as Luton (1 in 46), Birmingham (1 in 66) and Brighton and Hove (1 in 75). Manchester continues to feel the full force of the housing emergency in the north of England, with 1 in 102 people homeless.  

To donate to Shelter’s urgent Christmas appeal please visit www.shelter.org.uk or text SHELTER to 70030 to donate £3. Texts cost your standard network rate + £3. Shelter receives 100% of your donation.  

Case study: Sarah Martin, 40, from Brent in North West London lives in temporary accommodation with her 14-year-old son, Ishmael. They became homeless after Sarah’s mum passed away and they were evicted from her mum’s house. Sarah works full time as a housing officer for a local council herself.

Sarah says: “I suffered a mini-stroke as a result of MS, which led to myself and Ishmael moving back in with my mum for extra support. We were dealt another blow when my mum passed away – before I even had time to grieve, we were facing eviction from the place we’d called home for years.

“We ended up in a hostel for over a year. It was squalid. There were cockroaches everywhere and we had to share a bathroom and kitchen with other tenants. People would stumble around the corridors wild-eyed on drink and drugs and one poor woman tried to set herself alight. It was completely terrifying. Ishmael’s cheeky smile vanished, replaced by a nervous frown. He had been getting really good grades at school but they plummeted.  

“We finally moved out of the hostel and into a flat this summer, which is also temporary accommodation. I’m so happy to be out of the hostel, but our current place is still riddled with problems. Water constantly leaks from the above flat, which leaves the walls, carpets and floors soaking wet. Shelter got involved with our case and the council agreed the flat isn’t suitable – so fingers crossed we have a real home soon.”

Notes to editors:

See ‘Notes and references for tables’ for details of sources and methods.

Table 1: Estimated number of people who are homeless as at a given night in 2019, by type of homelessness, England

Homeless in TA arr. by the council [1]Homeless in TA arr. by them or homeless at home [2]Rough sleeping [3]Owed a relief duty but not accomm. by the council [4]Living in a homeless hostel [5]Living in TA arranged by Soc. Servs [6]Total people homeless [7]Rate of ppl who are homeless (1 in x ppl) [8]
236,61018,3174,6772,29214,6843,937280,517200

Table 2: Estimated number of people who are homeless as at a given night in 2019, by type of homelessness, by region of England

RegionHomeless in TA arr. by the council [1]Homeless in TA arr. by them or homeless at home [2]Rough sleeping [3]Total people homeless [7]Rate of ppl who are homeless (1 in x ppl) [8]Change since Q2 2016
North East700295661,0612,5044%
North West8,3802304289,038807117%
Yorkshire and The Humber1,9404682462,6542,06516%
East Midlands4,3101503584,81899750%
West Midlands13,10010,19542023,71524964%
East of England16,00021248416,69637118%
London163,1005,6851283170,068524%
South East22,85041193424,19537827%
South West6,2604094587,1277860%

Table 3: Estimated number of people who are homeless, England trends

Homeless in TA arr. by the council [1]Homeless in TA arr. by them or homeless at home [2]Rough sleeping [3]Owed a relief duty but not accomm. by the council [4]Living in a homeless hostel [5]Living in TA arranged by Soc. Servs [6]Total people homeless [7]
England Q1 2019236,61018,3174,6772,29214,6843,937280,517
England Q2 2016212,69017,3203,569N/A19,6664,092257,337

Table 4: Estimated number of people who are homeless, England trends (2)

All elementsRough sleeping and TA onlyAll elements except for new relief duty but not accommodated category
% change Q2 2016 to Q1 20199%11%8%
Numeric change Q2 2016 to Q1 201923,18026,02520,888

Table 5: Estimated number of people who are homeless, top 30 rates in England

Nat rankLocal AuthorityRegHomeless in TA arr. by the council [1]Homeless in TA arr. by them or homeless at home [2]Rough sleeping [3]Total people homeless [7]Rate of ppl who are homeless (1 in x ppl) [8]
1NewhamLon14,45607914,53524
2HaringeyLon9,2760329,30829
3Kensington & ChelLon5,25967205,34629
4WestminsterLon8,17203068,47830
5EnfieldLon10,42637810,50732
6Barking & DagLon5,932095,94136
7HackneyLon7,6800237,70336
8Waltham ForestLon7,26638227,32638
9Tower HamletsLon8,096139108,24539
10RedbridgeLon7,1720267,19842
11BrentLon7,62432307,68643
12LewishamLon7,015057,02043
13LutonEast4,63311474,69146
14SouthwarkLon6,453386476,88646
15BarnetLon5,5372,494248,05549
16LambethLon6,4190506,46950
17Hamm & FulLon3,6103123,62551
18EalingLon6,5110336,54452
19WandsworthLon5,326247255,59858
20BexleyLon3,860053,86564
21BirminghamW M8,1189,0499117,25866
22BromleyLon4,13677764,91967
23Brighton & HoveS E3,8048643,87675
24Kingston u ThamesLon2,2940232,31776
25HarrowLon2,9530132,96684
26CroydonLon4,3420154,35788
27GreenwichLon3,015673,02895
28IslingtonLon1,384989432,41699
29ManchesterN W5,165971235,385102
30SloughS E1,4270291,456102

Notes and references for tables above, more details available in report:

[1] This is an estimate of the number of people (adults plus children) who live in households who have been found to be homeless and are living in council arranged temporary accommodation. It is calculated using the detailed household type information in table TA2 of the Temporary Accommodation tables, from MHCLG’s official homelessness statistics. ‘Other’ household types are assumed to contain an average of two people. Q1 2019 data is used wherever possible, if it is not available, the next most recent in 2018/19 is used.

[2] This is an estimate of the number of people (adults plus children) who live in households who have been found to be homeless and are homeless at home or living in temporary accommodation arranged by themselves. The number of people in these households is assumed to match the average seen in the households above and the same conventions on dates are followed as above.

[3] This is also taken from MHCLG’s homelessness statistics and is from the annual count of rough sleepers, as at Autumn 2018 (most recent available). These figures are widely considered to be an underestimate of the true scale of rough sleeping.

[4] This small element reflects the fact that under the new Homelessness Reduction Act, some households are accepted as being owed a Relief duty but are not provided with interim accommodation. This is a separate group to those at [2] who are owed a main duty. This has been estimated at a national level only, using the results of an FOI to all councils in England and applying median ratios from the responses to the national figures that are published. The legislation is new, and a number of FOI responses needed to be removed as outliers, so this figure should be treated as a rough estimate with a wide margin of error, and is not reported below national level

[5] The estimated number of single homeless people living in a hostel on any given night is calculated using hostel bedspace data from the annual Homeless Link report. The data is reported by region, 10% is removed to account for voids, and then each region’s total number of single people in statutory temporary accommodation is removed, in a conservative measure to ensure double-counting is impossible. This is shown at national level only.

[6] The number of people living in temporary accommodation arranged by Social Services under the Children’s Act is estimated using an FOI sent to all county and unitary authorities in England. Not all councils hold, or are able to access this data, so responses are incomplete. We simply report on the numbers supplied via the FOI, using average family size of families in temporary accommodation as a multiplier to estimate people. Data and knowledge on these households is scant, so no extrapolation is done, meaning that this figure is very likely to be an underestimate.

[7] This is the estimated total number of people who are homeless. At the national level it sums up all six of the elements above, at regional and local levels just the first three elements.

[8] This is the rate of people who are homeless in the respected area, calculated by comparing the estimated number of people who are homeless to the total population of the area, using the latest available ONS population statistics.

  • The number of households that were threatened with homelessness in 2018/19 is the number of households that were owed the prevention duty from April 2018 to March 2019. This is available at: MHCLG, Live tables on homelessness, Initial assessments, Table A5P

  • We calculated the number of people that were threatened with homelessness in 2018/19 by multiplying the number of households owed the prevention duty from April 2018 to March 2019 by 1.51. We assumed that there were the same number of people in households owed the relief duty and the prevention duty. We calculated the number of people in households owed the relief duty by analysing FOI responses from councils and government data. The government data is available at: MHCLG, Live tables on homelessness, Initial assessments, Table A5R

  • In the last year (Dec 18 – Dec 19) a call was made to Shelter’s emergency helpline every 44 seconds on average and its free webchat service was used 25,971 times/

  • Other links: Population data, Homeless link report