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UK official statistics on homelessness: comparisons, definitions, and processes

Making government statistics accessible to everyone

Homelessness definitions and comparisons

Contact:
gsshelp
Version:
1.2.0
Updated:
Fri 12 February 2021
Next update:
May 2021
Download the UK homelessness statistics data file
XLSX , 95.5 kB ,

Homelessness is a devolved matter in the UK. Each country has a public body who collects and publishes homelessness statistics:

  • the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (England)
  • the Welsh Government
  • the Scottish Government
  • the Department for Communities (Northern Ireland)

Due to devolution, legislation and administrative data collection systems are different in each country. This means that measures of homelessness statistics, such as the characteristics of homeless households, are not always comparable across the UK.

For people interested in comparing homelessness statistics across the UK, it is vital to know what statistics you can and cannot compare.

This is a tool designed to help you understand the major concepts found in Official statutory homelessness statistics. It lets you explore these concepts to see broad definitions. It also outlines what measures of the concept's statistics are comparable between countries.

This tool lets you:

  • explore topic concepts and how statistical measures relating to those concepts are or are not comparable between UK countries
  • see where the topic's concepts' statistical measures are comparable between countries of your choice

To explore by concept, click on the "Concept" tab. To explore the comparable statistical measures of concepts by country, click the "Country" tab.

Comparing devolved statistics

Tablist controls: use the tablist to toggle the visibility of their respective panels (below the controls).

Homelessness concepts, their definitions, and the comparability of their statistics across the UK

Select a homelessness concept to find out more
Homeless

A person is homeless if they have no accommodation in the UK or elsewhere. A person is also homeless if they have accommodation but cannot reasonably occupy it, for example because of a threat of violence.

How can "homeless" statistics be compared?

  • Characteristics of homeless households can be compared across the four UK countries.
  • Trends in individual country time series data are comparable.
  • Statistics on households that applied for housing support are comparable for England and Scotland.
  • Statistics on eligible households are comparable for England and Scotland.
  • Headline figures for all four UK countries should not be compared due to legislative and data collection differences.
  • Statistics from Northern Ireland are largely not comparable to the rest of the UK due to the distinction in England, Wales and Scotland between those "threatened" or "at risk" and homeless presenters. In NI prevention and relief duties are not legislated and therefore, those considered 'threatened' elsewhere, are included in the NI numbers of homeless applicants.
  • Scotland does not assess for priority need at any stage of an application which should be considered when comparing to other countries.
  • As reporting timeframes are different in Northern Ireland to other countries, this should be considered when making comparisons.
  • In Wales each application can be recorded under multiple outcomes as they flow through the homelessness system. Therefore, outcomes are not representative of unique households. This must be considered when making comparisons.
Intentionally homeless

Intentionally homeless means the applicant intentionally did something, or failed to do something, that resulted in their homelessness.

How can "intentionally homeless" statistics be compared?

  • All four UK countries assess for intentionality. Intentionality as a proportion of all applicants can be compared across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Statistics for the four UK countries are not currently directly comparable. This is because assessment for intentionality comes at a different stage in each of the country's processes.
  • Intentionality as a proportion of all applicants cannot be directly compared across all four UK countries. This is because Wales do not currently publish a figure for all applicants.
Priority need

Applicants who have priority need for housing include: households with dependent children or a pregnant woman; people homeless due to fire or flood; and people who are particularly vulnerable due to ill health, disability, old age, having been in care or as a result of having been in custody or care, or having become homeless due to violence or the threat of violence.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, legislation dictates that some categories of applicants have a priority need for accommodation if homeless. Scotland do not test for priority need.

Applicants who have priority need for housing include:

  • households with dependent children or a pregnant woman
  • people homeless due to fire or flood
  • people who are particularly vulnerable due to ill health, disability or old age; having been in care or as a result of having been in custody or care; or having become homeless due to violence or the threat of violence

How can "priority need" statistics be compared?

  • Trends in time series data on England and Wales' statistics for applicants with a priority need are broadly comparable. Categories of those included in priority need groups do differ slightly between the two countries. Both England and Wales collect this information after prevention and relief duties have come to an end.
  • Northern Ireland's statistics for those with a priority need should not be compared with England, Wales or Scotland. Northern Ireland test for a priority need at the beginning of the application process, whereas England and Wales test after prevention and relief duties have come to an end, and Scotland does not test for priority need.
Repeat homelessness

Repeat homelessness is where an applicant presents as homeless within 365 days of their last presentation.

How can "repeat homelessness" statistics be compared?

  • Scotland and Northern Ireland both publish statistics on repeat homeless applicants. These statistics are broadly comparable.
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland's statistics on repeat homelessness are not directly comparable due to definitional differences. To be classed as repeat homeless in Scotland the applicant's household must be assessed as homeless within 365 days of their previous application being closed. Although in Northern Ireland repeat homeless applicants are counted irrespective of the outcome of the previous presentation, they do not need to have been 'accepted' in the first application to count as repeat in the second.
  • Wales do not collect information on repeat homelessness.
  • England do not currently publish statistics on repeat homelessness.
Rough sleeping

Rough sleeping is defined as:

  • people sleeping or bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in doorways, in parks or bus shelters)
  • people sleeping in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations or "bashes")

How can "rough sleeping" statistics be compared?

  • England and Wales' rough sleeping count statistics can be broadly compared. However, caution must be taken because local authorities in Wales are also required to produce estimates over a two-week period in October, as well as a street count in November. Local authorities in England are not required to produce the estimates prior to the count.
  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland's rough sleeping count statistics for similarly sized cities can be compared.
  • Scotland and Wales' statistics should not be compared because the data is collected differently. Scotland do not carry out a rough sleeping count but they do collect information at the homelessness application stage. Wales carry out a rough sleeping count and do not collect information on rough sleeping at the homelessness application stage.
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland's statistics for rough sleeping should not be compared because of the different data collection approaches. Scotland do not carry out a rough sleeping count but they do collect information at the homelessness application stage. Northern Ireland carry out a rough sleeping count in major cities and do not publish information gathered at the application stage.
  • Scotland and England's statistics for rough sleeping should not be compared because of the different data collection processes. England carries out a rough sleeping count, Scotland does not. Both England and Scotland collect information on rough sleeping at the homelessness application stage. However, the questions at this point are different and are not directly comparable.
Temporary accommodation

Temporary accommodation can be utilised to address both an interim duty to accommodate and the full housing duty. That is, an applicant could be placed here during their investigation, as part of relief of homelessness, or whilst waiting for a permanent offer of rehousing.

How can "temporary accommodation" statistics be compared?

  • Trends based on time-series data for the number of households in temporary accommodation can be compared across the UK.
  • Trends based on time-series data on demographics of households in temporary accommodation can be compared across the UK.
  • Direct comparisons are not possible due to the difference in eligibility criteria for temporary accommodation. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, temporary housing is largely provided for applicants who are in priority need; in Scotland, all applicants are entitled to temporary accommodation.
  • Direct comparisons are also not possible due to the differences in reporting time frames (for example, snapshot data or placements over time) and reporting categories (such as types of accommodation and length of stay).
Threatened with homelessness

A person is threatened with homelessness (potentially homeless) if it is likely that they will become homeless within 56 days. In Northern Ireland it is within 28 days.

How can "threatened with homelessness" statistics be compared?

  • Official figures for households who have been threatened with homelessness in England, Wales and Scotland can be compared. Data for Wales are based on outcomes of applications rather than presentations, and therefore comparisons should be treated with caution.
  • Figures for households threatened with homelessness in Northern Ireland should not be compared with statistics from England, Wales, or Scotland. This is because Northern Ireland do not produce statistics for those "threatened with homelessness". Therefore, in Northern Ireland, those who present as at risk within 28 days will be included in the numbers of those presenting as homeless.

Comparable statistics for homelessness concepts by UK countries

Select which UK countries you are interested in
  • Characteristics of homeless households can be compared across the four UK countries.
  • Trends in individual country time series data are comparable.
  • Statistics on households that applied for housing support are comparable for England and Scotland.
  • Statistics on eligible households are comparable for England and Scotland.
  • All four UK countries assess for intentionality. Intentionality as a proportion of all applicants can be compared across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Trends in time series data on England and Wales' statistics for applicants with a priority need are broadly comparable. Categories of those included in priority need groups do differ slightly between the two countries. Both England and Wales collect this information after prevention and relief duties have come to an end.
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland both publish statistics on repeat homeless applicants. These statistics are broadly comparable.
  • England and Wales' rough sleeping count statistics can be broadly compared. However, caution must be taken because local authorities in Wales are also required to produce estimates over a two-week period in October, as well as a street count in November. Local authorities in England are not required to produce the estimates prior to the count.
  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland's rough sleeping count statistics for similarly sized cities can be compared.
  • Trends based on time-series data for the number of households in temporary accommodation can be compared across the UK.
  • Trends based on time-series data on demographics of households in temporary accommodation can be compared across the UK.
  • Official figures for households who have been threatened with homelessness in England, Wales and Scotland can be compared. Data for Wales are based on outcomes of applications rather than presentations, and therefore comparisons should be treated with caution.