Trying to pin down UK youth homelessness data

desk covered with papers showing data and statistics

Lucy Ross is a research intern at AYPH, helping to collate data for the next edition of ‘Key Data on Young People’, which AYPH publishes every two years. In this blog she explains some of the challenges of pinning down data on homelessness among 10-24 year olds.

Due to limitations faced at multiple levels, data about youth homelessness in the UK are not always complete, clear, or consistent, which poses notable obstacles for research and policy.  We have been collating these data at AYPH recently as part of preparations for the next edition of our Key Data on Young People’s Health.

These are some of the challenges we’ve experienced:

  • In general, there is uncertainty surrounding homelessness data, due to low self-reporting. For a young person’s experience to be included in estimates, they must approach their local authority (LA) for help. However, research commissioned by Centrepoint indicates that many young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness will not seek help from their LA. Key reasons for non-reporting include a lack of information about housing rights, or fear of an ineffective response (Robinson & Coward, 2003).
  • Young people’s lived experience of homelessness may be different to that of older adults. For example, young people may be more likely to fall into alternative sorts of housing insecurity, such as sofa surfing. As very few representative studies explore the issue of youth housing insecurity, including homelessness, the particular experiences of young people are largely undocumented.
  • Even when young people ask for help, data from local authorities are limited. Different LAs measure homelessness differently and collect data at different times throughout the year, making comparison difficult. Additionally, LAs do not always report homelessness figures. For example, in 2019/20, almost a quarter (24%) of LAs in England did not provide youth homelessness data required by a freedom of information request from Centrepoint. For many councils, this resulted from increased workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Even when data are reported, there are inconsistencies in measurement over time. Changes to the way homelessness is assessed have been introduced across the UK in recent years. New legislation in Scotland in 2012, in Wales in 2014 and in England in 2018 (see below), means that more recent data are not comparable with earlier statistics. Whilst this doesn’t just apply to young people, it is a real barrier in understanding their experiences as it is difficult to follow trends over time.
  • To add further complication, the four nations of the UK measure youth homelessness differently.

England: Changes to homelessness data in England came into place in 2018. First, The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) placed greater duties with LAs to prevent and relieve homelessness in England. Second, a new recording system to monitor progress under the HRA was introduced, referred to as H-CLIC (Homelessness Case Level Information Collection).

Wales: Before the HRA came into force in England, there was a change to homelessness legislation in Wales. Through The (Wales) Housing Act 2014, it was mandated that earlier intervention should be emphasised for households at risk of homelessness. Whilst full housing relief duties are still owed based on priority need, the Housing Act meant that all young people who approach their local authority for help should now be granted an assessment.

Scotland: Similarly, in Scotland, everyone who approaches their LA are mandatorily assessed. However, unlike the other nations, Scotland abolished priority need assessments under the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012. The change meant that all eligible and unintentionally homeless young people are now entitled to settled accommodation from their council. Additionally, in Scotland, LAs collect data separately for different types of housing insecurity, such as homelessness or temporary accommodation placements.

Northern Ireland: Under The Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has a statutory duty to provide accommodation for those households which are accepted as statutorily homeless. To be “accepted”, a household must meet four tests: eligibility, homelessness, priority need and intentionality.

What do the challenges mean?

Without good quality data about youth homelessness, it is hard to know what works to reduce, prevent, and relieve the issue. In turn, it is difficult to evaluate policy, and design effective evidence-based interventions. To broaden our understanding, we need reliable data which accurately represents the experiences of young people affected by homelessness. Specifically, we need to appreciate the scale of the issue, the characteristics of those affected, and the challenges they face.

To help young people to come forward, steps should be taken to improve information about youth housing rights, and to rebuild trust in LA response. Further, greater emphasis should be placed on improving the capacity of LAs to provide up-to-date figures on youth homelessness. Whilst there is no obvious solution to tackle differences in measurement across time and nations, the inconsistencies brought to light should be acknowledged when researching and reviewing data on UK youth homelessness (Amaral-Rogers, 2021).

 

References

Robinson, D., & Coward, S. (2003). Hidden Homelessness: Your Place, Not Mine. Available at: http://www4.shu.ac.uk/research/cresr/sites/shu.ac.uk/files/hidden-homelessness-your-place-not-mine.pdf

Amaral-Rogers, A. (2021). Definitions of UK homelessness terms and the comparability of their statistics. [online] Civilservice.gov.uk. Available at: https://gss.civilservice.gov.uk/dashboard/tools/homelessness-statistics/comparison.html [Accessed 17 Jun. 2021].

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