A missed opportunity to prevent youth homelessness

Wednesday, 19 November 2014 - 12:00am

Homeless Link calls for more action to address the high number of under 25s becoming homeless. 

Young & Homeless 2014 - what young people told us

Research published today by Homeless Link shows:

  • 52% of those seeking help with homelessness are under 25.
  • Councils are preventing homelessness amongst young people in just 19% of cases.
  • Half of those living in homelessness services are under 25, at an average cost of at least £3,876 per case.     

Young and Homeless 2014 shows that more than half of those who approached councils and charity services for help in August 2014 were under 25. This suggests the scale of youth homelessness is higher than reflected in official figures:

  • Government figures record formal applications to councils. Homeless Link’s research takes into account those going directly to councils and homelessness services for help.

Experience of homelessness at a young age is proven to increase the risk of becoming homeless again and developing complex problems in later life. The report suggests work to prevent young people losing their home is simply not good enough in many areas:

  • The range of prevention methods used by some local authorities has improved. For example, 92% now carry out home visits which can help identify risks at an earlier stage.
  • However, 40% of councils believe they do not have the tools they need to prevent youth homelessness, and homelessness was not prevented by councils in 8 in 10 cases where young people approached them for help.

6 in 10 young people become homeless due to family or friends no longer being able accommodate them, with relationship breakdown the most common cause. Family mediation can be effective in supporting young people to stay at home, yet nearly a quarter of councils still do not offer this service. 

Remaining at home is not suitable for some young people, such as those at risk of abuse or violence, and the report also highlights the need for alternative housing options for this group, such as nightstops or emergency supported accommodation. The research suggests a shortage of suitable accommodation is forcing local authorities to use other, unsuitable options with 94% saying they have placed young people in bed & breakfasts.

The report calls for mediation, advice and support services to be available in every local authority area to families and young people at risk of homelessness. Schools and other agencies working with young people should also play a part in preventing homelessness through education, as well as early identification and appropriate referral of those at risk.

Commenting on the report, Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, said:

“This report shows that far too many young people are being affected by homelessness and that councils and charities across England are struggling to respond. We know that a focus on prevention works, yet many areas are missing an opportunity to tackle the issue before it develops. 

“Too many young people are being denied the opportunities to realise their potential that most take for granted. We know that local authorities are under incredible financial pressure, but intervening early saves lives and money. We’re calling on all local areas to ensure young people and families are given the support they need to prevent homelessness and the development of issues that can be difficult to overcome.”

Other issues of concern highlighted by the research: 

  • Welfare reform leading to more homelessness: The survey of over 200 charity and council homeless agencies has uncovered signs that the increased use of benefit sanctions could be adding to homeless numbers. Charities report that homelessness caused by financial problems due to benefit reductions has increased six fold (from 1.7% of cases in 2013 to 10% in 2014). Over 90% of providers report that benefit sanctions have affected the ability of young people to access accommodation.
  • Young people facing more complex problems: 58% of under 25s seeking help from councils and charities with homelessness have one or more other problem such as mental health, learning disability, substance misuse or offending behaviour. Half of agencies believe problems faced by young people have got worse. The range of complex problems faced by young people underline the need for effective support to help them leave homelessness behind. Nearly six in 10 (57%) of those seeking help are not in education, employment or training.  Around a quarter report mental health or substance misuse problems. 13% of those seeking help were young offenders and 11% were care leavers.
  • More young people sleeping rough: Charities report that 19% of young people have ever slept rough before they found support and that this issue has increased in the last year. There are also signs that some young people are sleeping rough for longer. Homeless Link believes that a lack of suitable emergency accommodation may be contributing to the issue.  Over half of councils do not have youth specific accommodation, such as night stops or crash pads. Only 6% of councils reported never using inappropriate Bed and Breakfast accommodation to house young people.
  • More people needing help than getting it: More homeless charities report increasing the support they provide to young people. Despite this 74% of charities report having to turn young people away. The most common reasons were either because the individual’s needs were too high or because the service did not have enough capacity to help. With signs that the overall needs of the homeless population are becoming more complex, these findings underline the need to sustain investment in services.

The National Youth Reference Group – made up of young people with experience of homelessness – has worked with Homeless Link to develop a number of recommendations for how the support available to young people at risk of homelessness can be improved, including:

  • A positive pathway model to be implemented in all areas, with clear protocols for integrated working.
  • Schools and other types of youth provision to increase education on homelessness, focusing on the realities and how to find support.
  • Investment in timeout projects and suitable emergency accommodation to allow young people and their parents respite before relationships reach crisis point.
  • An improvement in the benefit sanctions process and consideration given to the impact any future welfare reforms will have on homeless young people.         
  • The expertise of young people who have experienced homelessness to be utilised wherever possible; e.g. within mediation services, as part of peer mentoring schemes, and through paid and voluntary work within the sector.
  • Government to support local authorities to improve data recording and monitoring in order to help ascertain the scale of youth homelessness, monitor trends and observe the impact of prevention work.

Young and homeless 2014

Our fourth annual Young & Homeless report explores the reasons young people become homeless, the support available to them, and areas that need to be improved.


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Stephen Holland

Stephen served as our Communications Officer until January 2016.

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