Life on the margins: Over a quarter of a million without a home in England today

Posted 01 Dec 2016

A shocking new report today reveals that more than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England.

For the very first time, housing charity Shelter has analysed the most up to date statistics from a variety of sources to reveal the true scale of homelessness in the country. This combination of government statistics, freedom of information requests, and other published homelessness data puts the total number of people homeless at almost 255,000.

To mark Shelter’s founding 50 years ago today, the research is inspired by the charity’s original ‘Green Book’ – the report that launched Shelter in 1966 and exposed the grim reality of life for homeless families at the time. Sadly, the modern-day study also paints a bleak and desperate picture of a 21st century housing crisis affecting families across the nation.

But the homelessness epidemic stretches far beyond the Capital. Areas such as Luton, with 1 in 63 people living without a home, Brighton (1 in 69) and Birmingham (1 in 119) also made it into the country’s top homelessness hotspots.

The new Green Book also identified the country’s top 50 ‘homelessness hotspots’ where people are most likely to lose the battle to stay in their homes. Westminster topped the list with 1 in 25 people living without a home. This was followed by Newham (1 in 27), Haringey (1 in 28), and Kensington and Chelsea (1 in 30).

Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the sixties slums.  But while those troubled times have faded into memory, fifty years on a modern day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas. Decades in the making, this is the tragic result of a nation struggling under the weight of sky-high rents, a lack of affordable homes, and cuts to welfare support.

“We all face the consequences when so many in our country grow up without a place to call home. It breaks up communities and wreaks havoc on family life. For the sake of future generations we must pull together to end this crisis, and refuse to rest until every child has a place to call home.”

Shelter’s co-founder Des Wilson said: “It would be pleasing if Shelter were able to take time to celebrate its 50th year, but, as this report shows, it is too aware of what still has to be done. I hope the country will respond to its urgent rallying call with the same combination of anger and compassion with which it supported our work all those years ago.”

Case study: Mandie was renting a flat in Luton with her two daughters, but after being made redundant she fell behind on the rent and was evicted. Since becoming homeless, the family has been surviving by either sofa surfing, or living in emergency hotels or temporary accommodation.

Mandie says: “It’s terrifying how quickly you can lose everything – first my job, then my home, and almost my children. Our last real home was a damp, expensive two-bedroom flat, but at least it was ours. After we were thrown out, I went to stay with a friend for a couple of weeks but we needed a place of our own.

“The council put us in emergency accommodation and I had to apply for housing benefit to pay for it. But it took ages to come through and by the time I had the money, the council said I was “intentionally homeless” and they didn’t have to help anymore. They referred me to social services, who threatened to take my children off me. It was horrifying.

“But finally the council agreed to house us again. We stayed in a hotel for months and now we’re in temporary accommodation. I don’t know where we’ll end up next, or when we’ll be able to have a home to call our own.

“This year my daughters agreed to cancel Christmas. They’re normally hyped about it, but I think they’re trying to take the pressure off me. The only thing they asked for was whether we could still have a turkey dinner.”

To support Shelter’s urgent Christmas appeal and help families like Mandie’s please visit or text SHELTER to 70555 to donate £3.

Notes to editors:

Heatmap – homelessness hotspots

  • This analysis estimates the total numbers of recorded homeless people (adults and children) in England at the most recent point in time possible.

  • To arrive at a figure for the number of homeless people in England we have added together figures on different forms of recorded homelessness, for the first time. Most of these are from official sources (DCLG figures on temporary accommodation and rough sleeping), plus Social Services figures via an FOI and figures on single homeless hostel bedspaces from Homeless Link’s annual report.

  • The local level figures are drawn from two of these sources only - rough sleeping and temporary accommodation, because the other datasets are at a regional level only. For this reason, the local totals will sum up to slightly less than the national total.

  • Our calculations are then used in conjunction with the latest ONS population estimates to produce '1 in x people'.

  • The figures should be viewed as robust lower-end estimates of recorded homelessness. A number of conservative assumptions have been built into the analysis. For example, that 'other' household types in the temporary accommodation figures contain only two people when they will contain a minimum of two. Additionally, the hostel bedspaces data from Homeless Link have been adjusted down to account for voids (10%) and possible overlap with other figures (a further 50%).

  • The figures do not include 'hidden' or unrecorded homelessness which is very difficult to quantify, but known to be sizeable. A poll of 2,000 UK adults commissioned by Homeless Link in December 2013, found that 32% of people have experienced homelessness (including sofa surfing and staying with friends) or know someone who has experienced homelessness. 14% had experienced it themselves, 20% knew someone else who had experienced it, 2% said they had both experienced it and knew others who had.”

Table 1: Local results – Top 50 areas

LARegionNumber of people living in TA [1]Number of people rough sleeping [2]Estimated total homeless people [1+2]1 in x people are homelessNational Rank
Haringey [note: lack of data means figures calculated by applying regional average persons per TA household]London9,447229,469283
Kensington and ChelseaLondon4,550244,574304
Hackney [note: lack of data means figures calculated by applying regional average persons per TA household]London7,754207,774346
Tower HamletsLondon7,335127,347378
Waltham ForestLondon7,239337,272389
Barking and DagenhamLondon5,167205,1874010
Hammersmith and FulhamLondon3,48853,4935316
LutonEast of England3,405533,4586318
Brighton and HoveSouth East4,017784,0956920
City of LondonLondon3848869125
Kingston upon ThamesLondon1,784141,7989326
BirminghamWest Midlands9,524369,56011928
BroxbourneEast of England732073213531
WatfordEast of England6421265415233
SloughSouth East8911790816435
HarlowEast of England5181553316936
ReadingSouth East995161,01117037
BasildonEast of England1,026131,03917938
Epsom and EwellSouth East418642418640
CrawleySouth East5613359418941
DacorumEast of England774477819342
Bristol, City ofSouth West2,185972,28219943
GosportSouth East415441919944
CoventryWest Midlands1,67791,68620445
Richmond upon ThamesLondon7991181023847
ChelmsfordEast of England7011271324248
ColchesterEast of England751976024649
ManchesterNorth West1,930702,00026650

Table 2: National and regional results

RegionNumber of people living in TA [1]Number of people rough sleeping [2]Number of people in single homeless hostel (minus adj. for voids/ overlap with statutory) [3]Number of people in social services TA [4]Total homeless peopleTotal people [6]Rate (1 in x)
North East981387431461,9082,657,2361,393
North West3,9532201,7823186,2737,305,5571,165
Yorkshire and Humber2,1321601,3011143,7075,434,6451,466
East Midlands2,9972081,1161254,4464,714,6961,061
West Midlands14,1932491,5567816,0765,799,565361
South East18,2318272,18886022,1068,955,333405
South West6,6065091,7421939,0505,501,589608