Rough Sleeping Counts and Estimates – your questions answered

Tuesday, 29 August 2017 - 5:11pm

Each year Local Authorities in England use a count or estimate to find out how many people are sleeping rough in their area on a typical night between 1 October and 30 November. 

dark cobbled street

As planning for the 2017 counts gets underway, we answer five frequently asked questions:

How is ‘rough sleeping’ defined?

Since 2010, the figures used for national statistics have used this definition of rough sleeping:

People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes”).

The definition doesn’t include; people in hostels or shelters, sofa surfers, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protest, squatters or Travellers.

Is every homeless person counted?

The Counts and Estimates methodology produces a snapshot figure of how many people sleep rough in England on a typical night, with figures available at local, regional and national levels. The data does not include people who are homeless but do not fall within the rough sleeping definition or show how many people slept rough during an extended period.

Why do some areas Estimate instead of counting?

People who sleep rough are not always visible. They might bed down in parks, woodland or tents or in locations that are inaccessible or unsafe to enter. Sleeping rough is dangerous, and many people – especially women and young people – prefer hidden sleep sites to reduce their vulnerability to assault. Some sleep sites are also unsafe for counters to enter e.g. derelict buildings.

There are practical considerations when doing a count, including transport and supervision of volunteers. For rural councils, rough sleeping is often both hidden and dispersed over large areas, while an urban area with a busy night time economy might not see anyone bedding down until after 3am.

Where there are challenges to coordinating a safe and comprehensive Count, the alternative process is an Estimate. The Local Authority brings partners together to identify who was sleeping out on the chosen night and uses a range of information to arrive at their figure. For example, a small street count of visible hotspots, plus a day centre’s knowledge of who said they’d slept rough that night, cross-checked with a night shelter’s resident list, and supported by what park wardens have seen of sleep sites.

Estimates are not guesses: the process is evidence-based, bringing in a range of information sources so that people within the definition of rough sleeping can be included in the final figure, even if they were not seen on the night in question.

What information is shared?

Counts and Estimates provide an opportunity to evaluate the extent of rough sleeping, including which obstacles are preventing people from leaving the streets, especially for those Local Authorities who do not have regular street outreach and support services. At a local level, partner agencies agree information sharing protocols in order to share individual information. This informs support plans, as well as avoiding double counting.

Local Authorities share aggregated data in statistical returns to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). They provide the total number of people sleeping rough, as well as numbers of British people, EU nationals, non-EU nationals, women, men, under-18s and young people.

What is Homeless Link’s role?

Homeless Link is funded by the DCLG to provide guidance to Local Authorities on how to conduct their count or estimate. We verify that the process has been followed, which includes sending verifiers to attend each count, attending 10% of estimate meetings and validating the remainder remotely. A summary of our role is included in the DCLG’s 2016 statistical release.

Find out more

See our data analysis for more detail on previous years’ figures.

Updated Counts and Estimates guidance will be available in mid-September 2017. To learn more about the process, sign up for our webinar or attend one of our September Verifier training sessions, running in six locations around England.

We also have workshops for Local Authority leads and Count Coordinators, please contact Tasmin Maitland for booking details.