About homelessness - definition and numbers

There is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. This is because homelessness is recorded differently in each nation and because many homeless people do not show up in official statistics at all.

Rough sleeping

At worst, homelessness can mean sleeping rough on the streets.

However, the problem of homelessness is much bigger than that of rough sleeping.

Statutory homelessness

Local authorities do not have to provide housing for all homeless people. Instead, they have a duty to house 'statutory' homeless people and, every year, tens of thousands of people apply to their local authority for homelessness assistance.

To be legally defined as homeless you must either lack a secure place in which you are entitled to live or not reasonably be able to stay in your current accommodation. However, in order for your local authority to have a duty to find you housing, there are further strict criteria that you have to meet. The housing a local authority provides to households who meet these criteria, mainly families with children, may initially be temporary accommodation.

In England:

  • 114,790  households applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance in 2015/16, an 11 per cent rise since 2010/11.    
  • 57,730 households were accepted as homeless and in 'priority need' - a six per cent rise on 2014/15. 

In Wales:

  • During 2015-16 a total of 7,128 households were assessed as threatened with homelessness within 56 days and for 4,599 households (65 per cent) homelessness was successfully prevented for at least 6 months.
  • A total of 6,891 households were assessed as being homeless and owed a duty to help secure accommodation during 2015-16 - of these, 3,108 households (45 per cent) were successfully relieved of their homelessness and helped to secure accommodation.
  • During 2015-16, 1,563 households were assessed to be unintentionally homeless and in priority need and qualified for the duty to have accommodation secured for them.

In Scotland:

  • Between 1 April 2015 to March 2016 there were 34,662 applications. This was a four per cent (1287) lower than the number of application in 2014-15.
  • 28,226 (82%) were accepted as homeless. 

If you don't have dependent children (known as ‘single homelessness') and you are not deemed to be more vulnerable than other homeless people, you probably won't be entitled to housing.

Single and hidden homelessness 

The vast majority of single homeless people who are not entitled to housing, as well as those who, for a variety of reasons do not even apply for homelessness assistance, end up surviving out of sight.

Many stay in hostels and there are just over 38,500 be spaces in hostels for single homeless people in England but there are other ways to get by. This might mean staying in squats or B&Bs, in overcrowded accommodation or ‘concealed' housing, such as the floors or sofas of friends and family.

If you do not qualify for local authority housing assistance, if you are sleeping rough, staying in a hostel, a squat or some other form of unsatisfactory or insecure accommodation, then you are one of the countless thousands of hidden homeless people.

Homelessness amongst different groups

Anyone can become homeless but some groups' homelessness may be caused by different factors and they may experience homelessness in a different way.

Homelessness for both men and women is often caused by an accumulation of events. However, the triggers and experiences of women's homelessness tend to be of a distinct nature.

Young people become homeless for a wide range of reasons but the most common is being asked to leave the family home by their parents.

Whilst the vast majority will not become homeless, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

Homelessness ends here

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