What is the scale of homelessness on any given night?

Francesca Albanese, Head of Research and Evaluation

What is the scale of homelessness on any given night?

There are 170,800 households across Great Britain experiencing the worst forms of homelessness on any given night, according to new figures published by Crisis. The research by Heriot-Watt University uses the most up to date information and has been designed in response to concerns that many people experiencing homelessness are not being accurately recorded in official statistics.

Termed as core homelessness, this includes rough sleeping, sofa surfing, squatting, people living in hostels and unsuitable forms of temporary accommodation, as well as people forced to sleep in cars, tents and night shelters. In recognition that current homelessness statistics are an insufficient measure of homelessness amongst some groups, the analysis has instead drawn on data from a range of sources - household panel surveys, statutory statistics and academic studies - to produce the most up to date estimate of the worst forms of homelessness.

What is clear from the scale of core homelessness, is whilst overall it has gone up, it is not an insurmountable problem. Finland has all but eradicated rough sleeping through giving homeless people permanent housing and is now making significant reductions in other forms of homelessness. The same is possible across Great Britain.


The research tells us is there are significant differences in levels of core homelessness across England, Scotland and Wales. In England nearly all forms of core homelessness have increased in the past five years, and this accounts for 90% (153,000 households) of the total across GB. There have been notable rises in rough sleeping which has increased from 5,000 to 11,000 since 2012 and unsuitable temporary accommodation which has more than doubled in the same period. A clear sign of housing market and homelessness pressures, there are now 18,000 households in England currently living in unsuitable accommodation including B&Bs and nightly paid hotels.

In Scotland, there have been relatively stable levels of core homelessness since 2013 – around 12,000 households - but there has been a 15% increase in unsuitable temporary accommodation. An issue that has recently been highlighted in our life in limbo research which looked at the detrimental impact prolonged stays in unsuitable temporary accommodation has on health, wellbeing and social isolation.

In Wales the overall scale of core homelessness is much smaller – 5,200 households – but there has been an upwardtrend in rough sleeping and people sleeping in cars, tents and public transport despite drops in squatting, sofa surfing and unsuitable temporary accommodation.

For the first time the research has looked at age breakdown across different types of core homelessness. This includes at least 38,000 young adults under the age of 25, of which 18,000 of them are sofa surfing. The analysis also shows the most acute forms of homelessness are not restricted to younger people, 4,200 people aged 65 and over are included in the total.

We must not forget there is a human being behind each one of these numbers. These figures are a stark reminder that thousands of people are continuing to live in dangerous and unstable situations, both on the street or in unsuitable accommodation. We also know homelessness can be ended and we want to use our measure of core homelessness as a marker to track government progress over time. These figures won’t make a significant downward trend until we have a commitment from all three governments to end homelessness in all its forms. While the Scottish government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, action on it cannot start soon enough. Meanwhile, the government’s in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

For media enquiries:

E: media@crisis.org.uk
T: 020 7426 3880

For general enquiries:

E: enquiries@crisis.org.uk
T: 0300 636 1967