This evidence review summarises existing data on different types of homelessness in relation to "hidden" homelessness across the UK and highlights the challenges, complexities, main data gaps and future work. The need for better UK data and evidence about groups of the population who are currently under-represented in data was one of the areas highlighted by the Inclusive Data Taskforce Report and the resulting Inclusive Data Taskforce Implementation Plan.
This review considers a broad definition of "hidden" homelessness, which includes people who are experiencing homelessness or housing difficulties, regardless of legal definitions or entitlement, but who are not supported by their local authorities or counted in official statistics.
Exploratory work is underway across the Government Statistical Service (GSS) in the four nations to address the known long-standing challenges associated with the measurement of "hidden" homelessness. This includes research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) around capturing the scale of women experiencing "hidden" homelessness, work by the Scottish Government (SG) to understand the experiences of people facing homelessness and housing insecurity, and work by the Department for Levelling Up and Communities (DLUHC) and the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) to implement a new rough-sleeping data-led framework. Continued collaboration will be important to moving towards improved data on the "hidden" homeless. For more information, or to get in touch, please see the Future developments and Get in touch sections of this publication.Back to table of contents
Limited data on some forms of "hidden" homelessness are available but it is not currently possible to estimate the true scale of "hidden" homelessness across the UK because of known complexities in reaching this population group.
It is difficult to compare statistics across the UK because of differences in how "hidden" homelessness is defined and captured across the four nations as a result of devolved policy and resulting differing legislation.
The available evidence suggests some population groups, such as women, young people and ethnic minority groups, are more likely to experience "hidden" homelessness than others.
Those are likely to be vulnerable population groups that are particularly difficult to capture in official statistics because of the way they experience homelessness.
Research is under way in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other organisations, including the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), on how to address these data gaps.
The ONS is also considering how other countries are capturing "hidden" homelessness in their data and evidence, and is looking to learn from best practices.
Homelessness remains a challenge across the UK. It affects a wide range of people, including but not limited to people who are sleeping rough, those staying in temporary accommodation, with friends and relatives, in unconventional structures, in severely overcrowded accommodation, or those who are threatened with losing their permanent home.
In England alone, 278,110 households were assessed as either being at risk of homelessness or already homeless in April 2021 to March 2022 in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities' (DLUHC's) Statutory Homeless Annual Report (PDF, 4.84MB). These are people who have approached local authorities for support and are recognised as statutory homeless. Statutory homelessness statistics are also regularly collected and published in Scotland's homelessness statistics, Wales's homelessness statistics and Northern Ireland's housing statistics. In addition, most of the UK nations publish statistics on rough sleeping, discussed later in this review.
Alongside the types of homelessness captured by statutory and rough sleeping statistics, there exist other forms of homelessness that are less well evidenced and understood. These are captured by the term "hidden" homelessness and cover people who may be experiencing homelessness, but their situation is not "visible", either on the streets or in official statistics. "Hidden" homelessness can refer to a wide range of experiences, as will be discussed in the next section.
Data on "hidden" homelessness are limited, particularly when it comes to enumeration. This is because of the very nature of "hidden" homelessness, which makes it difficult to accurately measure the scale of the problem. Individuals experiencing "hidden" homelessness tend to find themselves in housing situations that are not as well captured in official statistics, such as sofa surfing, squatting and rough sleeping out of sight.
In The Hidden truth about homelessness 2011 report (PDF, 954KB), Crisis estimated that 62% of single homeless people surveyed in England were experiencing "hidden" homelessness on the day they were surveyed and 92% had experienced "hidden" homelessness in the past.
Furthermore, the London Assembly Housing Committee's 2017 Hidden homelessness in London report (PDF, 630KB) estimated that, in London, 13 times more people were "hidden" homeless than visibly sleeping rough. Although these figures are estimates, they provide some insight into the extent of "hidden" homelessness and the difficulties in trying to enumerate that population, as many are hidden from view. Understanding the scale of this issue and beginning to explore the experiences and circumstances of those who are experiencing "hidden" homelessness is important for ensuring policy and service provision are aimed not just at those represented in official statistics but also those who are missing from them.
Defining "hidden" homelessness
There is no UK-wide definition of "hidden" homelessness. The term can mean different things to different people and it is often applied inconsistently.
In their annual Homelessness Monitor publication, Crisis defines "hidden" homelessness as people who may be considered homeless but whose housing situation is not "visible" on the streets or in official statistics. Up until 2018, this definition included:
people temporarily staying with friends or relatives (sofa surfing)
those living in severely overcrowded conditions
those involuntarily sharing accommodation with other households on a long-term basis (concealed households)
people sleeping rough out of sight
The Homelessness Monitor from 2019 (PDF, 2.2MB) narrowed their definition to only include people living in overcrowded conditions, sharing households and in concealed households.
In their Hidden homelessness topic briefing, Shelter Scotland have previously referred to "hidden" homeless as "people who would meet the legal definition of homeless if they were to make a formal application but are not represented in the local authority homelessness statistics", either because they have not approached or have been turned away by their local authority. This includes people who are:
living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions
living in out-of-season holiday lets
living in poor-quality caravans in rural areas
In a report of "hidden" homelessness in London (PDF, 630KB), the London Housing Committee propose a working definition of this form of homelessness, which includes people who:
have no right to or cannot stay in a fixed place
do not receive formal assistance by their local authority or related support services
have not formally applied for support with their local authority
do not have the resources to avoid their current situation
Their definition includes a wide variety of housing situations, ranging from sofa surfing to rough sleeping.
For the purposes of this review, we will consider a broad definition of this term, which includes people who are experiencing homelessness or housing difficulties, regardless of legal definitions or entitlement, but who are not supported by their local authorities or counted in official statistics. This could include people who:
choose to not approach local authorities for assistance
approach local authorities but do not receive a response that meets their needs
find an alternative solution outside of the formal system of housing support and provision
do not necessarily identify as homeless
Improved accuracy of enumeration of this population would provide a foundation on which to develop methods to better understand these groups, including their experiences and journeys into "hidden" homelessness. This could in turn ensure that service provision is targeted appropriately and meets the specific needs of these population groups.
Better capturing "hidden" homelessness in data and evidence may involve novel methods such as those employed in Denmark's biennial homelessness mapping using a combination of street counts and service-based surveys, or by amending the census to better capture these groups as in Australia.
Ongoing work within the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is aimed at improving the coverage of hard-to-reach population groups, including "hidden" homelessness, in UK data and evidence. Research is currently being carried out to explore the development of a methodology for enumerating women experiencing "hidden" homelessness across the UK. Subject to available funding, future research will likely involve piloting this methodology across the four UK nations.
In addition, the Scottish Government is currently carrying out a complementary evidence review exploring the international evidence base on methods to identify people who are facing or have faced "hidden" homelessness. The Scottish Government is also in the process of procuring external research to better understand the lived experiences of those people who are homeless, at imminent risk of homelessness or who face housing insecurity but do not appear in Scotland's official figures. The ONS and Scottish Government are working closely together to ensure their work on "hidden" homelessness is complementary.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has implemented a new rough sleeping data-led framework, working with the Centre for Homelessness Impact. This will be used to monitor progress towards ending rough sleeping, to ensure it is prevented, and, where it does occur, is rare, brief and non-recurrent. This will identify parameters and metrics to measure progress and identify where action is needed.
Get in touch
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In general, a household is regarded as statutorily homeless when the local authority has a duty to house them in settled accommodation. This might be because its members are unintentionally homeless in a priority-need category, but not sleeping rough. This is depending on country-specific legislation and the individual circumstances of the applicant. For more detail please see the Government Statistical Service's (GSS) interactive tool for homelessness.
English Housing Survey
This is a continuous national survey, which collects information about people's housing circumstances and the condition of housing in England.
Scottish House Condition Survey
This is an annual, cross-sectional survey that provides robust evidence on the composition, characteristics, attitudes and behaviour of private households and individuals as well as evidence on the physical condition of Scotland's homes. The survey is an integrated component of the Scottish Household Survey.
Freedom of Information Act (2000)
Legislation that grants public access to documents or other data in the possession of a government agency or public authority unless the information falls into a category that is specifically excluded from the terms of the legislation.
An exercise using a combination of both counts based and evidence-based information to estimate the level of rough sleeping in an area on a typical night or a range of nights.
Overcrowded housing conditions is determined based on guidelines outlined by the room standard and the space standard. For more information on legislative definitions see: Housing Scotland Act 1987), England and Wales Housing Act 1985, Northern Ireland Housing Selection Scheme Rules (PDF, 1.23KB).
For Census 2021 in England and Wales, overcrowding is calculated by comparing the number of bedrooms the household requires with the number of available bedrooms.
The number of bedrooms the household requires is calculated according to the Bedroom Standard, where the following should have their own bedroom:
any remaining adult (aged 21 years or over)
two males (aged 10 to 20 years)
one male (aged 10 to 20 years) and one male (aged 9 years or under), if there are an odd number of males aged 10 to 20 years
one male aged 10 to 20 years if there are no males aged 0 to 9 years to pair with him
Repeat steps 3 to 5 for females
two children (aged 9 years or under) regardless of sex
any remaining child (aged 9 years or under)
An occupancy rating of:
negative 1 or less implies that a household's accommodation has fewer bedrooms than required (overcrowded)
positive 1 or more implies that a household's accommodation has more bedrooms than required (under-occupied)
0 suggests that a household's accommodation has an ideal number of bedrooms
This considers the number and gender of people who must sleep in the same room. Any room people can sleep in counts including living rooms, dining rooms and studies.
This considers the maximum number of people who may sleep in a dwelling of a particular size. This is dependent on the size of the room, the number of living rooms and bedrooms, the dwelling and the age of the occupants.Back to table of contents
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