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112,000 and counting: How to reverse the trend of numbers in Temporary Accommodation breaking records

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by Signe
  • On 01 May 2024

This week the government released the latest stats on households in temporary accommodation (TA) and as expected, it is grim reading. At the end of December 2023, there were 112,660 households stuck in TA, an increase of 6,870 households since the previous quarter, and up 12.1% from the same time last year. 63% of these households include children.

The number of children in TA has increased from 138,930 to 145,800 in the last quarter alone. That is nearly 7,000 more children who became homeless from October to the end of the year. 18,610 children have become homeless and ended up in TA since the early days of the pandemic.

Each one is a tragedy of delayed development and broken links to school, services and a basic sense of safety and stability.

A quarter of a million households in temporary accommodation by 2030

If this population continues to grow by 12% annually, there will be a quarter of a million households in TA by the end of the decade. Remember, this is households, not individuals; this figure will be much higher.

The number of children in TA grew even more, by 15.4% over the last year. If this growth were to remain unchanged, there would be nearly 400,000 children living in TA by December 2030.

This, unfortunately, could be an underestimate if we don’t see drastic and concerted efforts to address this crisis, including equipping Local Authorities with the funds and policy levers necessary to help the many people who present to them as homeless, or at risk of homelessness.

Escalating numbers of homeless households are being sent out of area

We know Local Authorities (LAs) are struggling. Looking at the number of LAs declaring bankruptcy because of the skyrocketing TA bill is an indicator of just how ill equipped they are to deal with the homelessness crisis.

Another indicator is the growing number of people being sent out of area because LAs have run out of other internal options. 33,350 or nearly 30% of households in temporary accommodation were placed in accommodation in a different local authority area to where they presented as homeless. While there are some cases where this decision was made in the best interest of the homeless households, it is a very disruptive experience for the vast majority.

This also pushes the problem onto other Local Authorities, who are not always notified and will, in turn, have to move their own homeless residents to other areas. With reduced income from government grants, increased inflation and ballooning need, nothing is affordable. The people whose lives are uprooted are the collateral damage.

But LAs have little choice; they still need to meet their statutory obligations to those who are owed a main housing duty (not including those who are ‘intentionally homeless’ or have no recourse to public funds). What they can do is cut youth work, rubbish collection, libraries and maintenance of basic infrastructure. In this way, the burden is being pushed onto ordinary citizens, who wonder why their council tax bill is increasing when all they see is disrepair.

Another thing LAs can do to try to stem the tide of demand is increase the threshold for when single homeless households qualify for the main housing duty. That is, whether LA Housing needs to help them at all. We hear from frontline workers that they see this happening more and more, leading in turn to an increase in rough sleeping.

How to reverse the trend

Behind every statistic is an individual or a family who could be stuck in inadequate accommodation that is harming their health and life chances. But it is not too late to reverse this trend. In an election year, we have a unique opportunity to influence policy so that fewer people are pushed into homelessness, experiences in TA become safer and healthier, and crucially, there is a way out.

We need a Renters Reform Bill that truly protects renters rights (as opposed to the watered down version currently going through the House of Lords) and sets enforceable standards for the private rented sector - especially temporary accommodation. We need to finally abolish section 21 evictions, permanently link the Local Housing Allowance to the ever rising rent, build more truly affordable and social housing, and adequately fund Local Authorities to help people who present to them as homeless with suitable accommodation, as well as other much needed support.

But we don’t think we have all the answers. We are launching a sector-wide consultation with the various individuals, institutions and organisations who are working in, or have experience of, homelessness, to help put together a Better Vision for TA.

Let’s work together to reverse this dreadful trend so we don’t find ourselves writing about 400,000 children in TA at the end of the decade. Surely we can do better.