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The Scale and Impact of Unsupported Temporary Accommodation in Greater Manchester

  • 9 min read |
  • Posted by Christa Maciver
  • On 10 August 2021

Today we are releasing a report completed in 2020, that provides pre-pandemic insight into Unsupported Temporary Accommodation (UTA) across Greater Manchester (GM). The full report findings can be found here, but in this blog, we will share some of the main highlights and insights.

It feels odd to say that ‘homelessness is complicated.’ Surely it should be simple, meaning someone no longer has a roof over their head, but in reality, homelessness is really so much more than rooflessness.

Homelessness is the loss of home—a space that provides privacy, safety, security and a sense of control. Therefore, although they have a roof over their head, someone can still be homeless while living in short-term, insecure housing. In England, hundreds of thousands of individuals, children and families live without a home under some form of temporary arrangement, whether that is (but not limited to) sofa surfing, squatting or living in temporary accommodation. The blight of hidden homelessness is worse in numeric terms than rough sleeping, yet it doesn’t seem to cut through national conversations. It is almost as though the problem of hidden homelessness does not exist.

The lack of national attention is partly due to an evidence deficit. There just isn’t enough knowledge about different types of hidden homelessness to really drive change. This report, therefore, is an effort to fill some of these knowledge gaps.

Since 2014, we have been building a body of evidence into a type of hidden homelessness within temporary accommodation. Specifically, we have focused on unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA), which is where single homeless households often end up living if they are not rough sleeping. UTA is private, short-stay accommodation where individuals have no permanent residency status and limited access to local authority support for rehousing. Our aim over the years has been to provide the much-needed evidence that UTA exists (Maciver 2017), that it has a terrible impact on the health and wellbeing of residents (Rose & Davies 2014; Rose, Davies & Maciver, 2016) and, yet, that there are things we can do to help (Maciver et al, 2016; Maciver & Yates 2017).

The report ‘Unsupported Temporary Accommodation: Housing for Single Homeless Households in Greater Manchester,’ is the culmination of this work that began to highlight a previously unknown/undefined problem, look at the impact on the health and wellbeing of residents, estimate the national population of UTA, and finally, in this latest report, to examine the possibility of identifying UTA data in a specific locality. With this in mind, we developed a multi-pronged methodology to discover as much as possible about UTA in Greater Manchester, providing a pre-pandemic snapshot of the existence, scale and impact of UTA across GM.

Existence and Scale of Unsupported Temporary Accommodation

The existence and scale of UTA is difficult to uncover due to its nuanced position in the private rented sector (PRS) as well as the many different unofficial and undocumented pathways into the accommodation.

On the whole, the PRS is largely unregulated (IPPR North 2014), often with poor enforcement, and a limited understanding, of regulations (Citizens Advice 2019). It encapsulates a wide variety of housing types and tenures, which leaves room for different definitions of similar housing across the country. A 2018 report, ‘The Evolving PRS,’ pointed out how difficult it can be to quantify issues in the PRS since not all problems can be quantified. However, ‘the inability to count a problem should by no means be taken as a dismissal of its significance (Rugg & Rhodes 2018).’ The same holds true for UTA. It is a challenging issue to quantify, but that does not mean it is insignificant.

There are also both what we consider ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ pathways into the accommodation. Not everyone placed through an official route is owed a main housing duty (legally required rehousing support from local authorities under the Housing Act 1996), they may have been placed under a different statutory duty by adult social care under the Care Act or probation services (Gosmann et al 2020). ‘Unofficial’ pathways are through word of mouth, signposting or placing by a third sector organisation or self-placement, when individuals just turn up on the doorstep themselves to find a place (ibid). UTA is predominantly populated by men who are not working and receiving welfare support, which leaves them with few options for rehousing beyond UTA. Many in our research group felt they had no choice but to take a room in UTA:

Yeah well because I had no choice because a room’s a room it’s like take it or be on the street, end of story.

The different pathways into UTA, and the lack of records or mechanisms to consolidate them, makes it difficult to gather official statistics on the population. However, it is possible (albeit resource intensive) to gather data by interviewing people and visiting properties to determine whether or not they fit the definition of UTA. Using this method, we confirmed 36 different UTA properties in GM with a population of 386, but identified an additional 25 potential properties that we could not confirm during the duration of our research. If we take into account the population of these potential properties, the total number of people living in UTA could have been as high as 711.

Our research confirmed that UTA exists in every GM borough apart from Stockport. If we include the potential properties, then UTA exists in every borough in the city. Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale, have the highest concentrations of UTA, and together these three areas hold over 70% of the UTA population for Greater Manchester. At the time of writing (2019), the confirmed UTA population was 10% of the total homeless population (rough sleeping & temporary accommodation numbers) in GM. This is significant and especially concerning when the existence of UTA was (and is) routinely denied, in spite of its intrinsic connection to wider cycles of rough sleeping and homelessness. For some, the streets seemed a more desirable option:

It’s hard because I am on the streets now, don’t get me wrong but I look better now, and my mental health has improved...I just wanted to get off the streets so I just thought it was a good idea, but it wasn’t a good idea.

Whether it is a population of 386 or 711, our research confirmed that UTA does, in fact, exist across Greater Manchester and has the potential to play a significant role in the cycles of the wider homelessness system.

The Impact of Unsupported Temporary Accommodation in Manchester

It’s hell. You can’t sleep, you got your ears, playing the music loud. You report it to (landlord Name) and he just gets really nasty with you, and if you challenge him he attacks you against the wall. He’s had me pinned against the wall at least four times, and I’ve just had enough of it.

The impact of living in UTA depends on both the environment within the accommodation and also the geographic location of the physical building. In most cases (and there are exceptions to the rule), the living environment within UTA is poor or below standard, and repeatedly described as cold, damp and unsanitary. Many residents live chaotic and stressful lives, sometimes compounded by serious mental health challenges (e.g. schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, anxiety), prison stays and/or rough sleeping alongside addiction issues. Many also described a lack of control or choice with regards to their personal space or housing choice:

When he [the landlord] comes around he doesn’t knock on the door he just walks in. So if you’re getting dressed, it’s tough.... he can get in with his key, yes. Because there is no inner lock, so you can’t lock him out, unless you barricade the door. And there’s even females there as well.

I’ve got to find somewhere else, and I suppose that bit of power is taken away from you because you have got to do it, you are not being given the option of staying or leaving of your own accord you have got to go whether you like it or not sort of thing.

Some residents who have lived in these circumstances for very long describe UTA as ‘livable’ in spite of the detrimental impact it has had on their lives. For example, 6 of the 9 residents interviewed who felt UTA wasn’t too disruptive also described being victims of violence, debilitating mental health issues and suffering addiction relapses whilst in UTA.

Our research also discovered, after examining data from the English Indices of Deprivation (IoD 2019), that the geographic area where UTA exists could play a significant role in the lives of residents. These ‘indices’ look at different domains in order to identify which areas in England are the most deprived. This does not just mean individuals living in poverty due to lack of income, but that people can be deprived because of lack of resources such as healthcare, employment, quality/affordability of housing, etc (ibid). Many boroughs of GM already rank highly in comparison to deprivation rates across England, but even when looking at where UTA is located compared to other areas in GM, we still found it statistically more likely to be in areas with higher levels of deprivation. Two-thirds of UTA were in the top 3rd most deprived areas for their borough, while 24% were in the top 1st. The story is similar when looking specifically at barriers to accessing housing or support services, 24% were in the top 3rd most deprived areas; but it is even worse in regards to health deprivation and disability, or the ‘risk of premature death and impairment of quality of life through poor mental or physical health’ (IoD 2019, p. 3), where 24% of UTA are in the most deprived areas of GM, 41% are in the top second most deprived areas and 80% are in the top 4th.

The relationship between deprivation and its potential effect on local populations has been well-documented, especially in relation to health. Deprivation is associated with higher instances of multiple morbidity and depression (Charlton et al, 2013):

"People living in social and material deprivation are channelled, through the higher incidence of disease, into higher categories of multiple morbidity. People living in deprived circumstances live longer with multiple morbidity, and more of those who die have multiple morbidity. Depression is associated with morbidity, but deprivation is associated with a higher prevalence of depression at any level of morbidity (ibid)."

Not only are individuals living in deprived areas more likely to have multiple morbidity and depression, the impact of their lifestyles in combination with deprivation creates a heightened risk of mortality (Foster et al, 2018). There is, therefore, a clear association between UTA location and deprivation. Both this fact and the environment many face when living in UTA create a perfect storm in which individuals are in dire need of support and yet are living in areas where there is lack of access to the help needed.

So, what?

In this latest piece of research into UTA, we conclusively discovered not only that UTA exists, but that there is a way to determine where it is and count its population without official data, even if it is a fairly resource-intensive exercise. We gathered further evidence to the fact that many individuals who live in UTA have challenging experiences that impact their health and wellbeing as well as their feelings of agency and control. And yet, residents of UTA are typically in areas that feature higher rates of deprivation which suggests they do not have access to the resources or support needed to move forward.

What we need is greater awareness of the existence of UTA, and improved regulation over this type of accommodation. But there are things that can be done in the meantime to improve the lives of those in UTA, specifically better collaboration between services to ensure people are not falling through the cracks as they cycle through various forms of homelessness. To this end, we are working to build a national network of Temporary Accommodation Action Groups that particularly look to support this type of collaboration and, crucially, landlords need to be involved in this process. Landlords often need just as much positive support in managing their TA as residents do to address their complex needs.

Ultimately there needs to be an acknowledgement of the existence of UTA and the hidden and forgotten individuals living there - the more we can do that, the more opportunity for positive change there is.