Getting behind the homeless statistics: update for 2017-18

By: Shelter Scotland
Published: November 2018

Getting behind the homeless statistics: update for 2017-18

This paper provides an analysis of the government’s official 2017-18 homelessness statistics in order to get a clearer picture of who applies as homeless, the reasons behind their homelessness and the results of that application. We then make a series of 13 recommendations on how the current political spotlight on homelessness can be turned into real, sustained change and improvements for those who find themselves to be homeless.

Key points:

In 2017-18, 34,972 households applied as homeless in Scotland. This is a 1% rise on 2016-17; the first increase since 2008-09. This small increase follows a levelling off of the rate of applications over the past few years, and shows that the impact of Housing Options in reducing homeless applications has stagnated.

The increase in homeless applications has only been among certain groups; single parents and single people. For others – such as couples – applications have continued to decline.
14,075 children were in households assessed as homeless in 2017-18; a marginal increase on the previous two years.

The pattern of homelessness is different amongst men and women depending on their age; more young women up until the age of 25 apply than young men, but at 35 this trend reverses and more men than women apply as homeless.

Certain groups are persistently overrepresented in homelessness statistics; young people, prison leavers, care leavers, and former members of the armed forces.

Both the number of households and the number of children in temporary accommodation have increased for the fourth year running, up to 10,933 and 6,615 respectively. The latter is particularly salient given that the new data shows that households spend extended periods of time in temporary accommodation, and that households with children spend longer in temporary accommodation than those without (201 days compared to 161 days).

There is an increasing proportion of applicants, now accounting for 47% of all households assessed as homeless, who identify support needs, particularly relating to medical conditions and mental health conditions.

Repeat homelessness cases constitute 6.4% of all households assessed as homeless. This is part of an increasing trend since 2009-10.

The number of people recorded as approaching their local authority for help with housing outwith the homelessness system, through the service known as ‘Housing Options’, has declined since recording began in 2014-15, to 26,803 unique households in 2017-18.
Contact was lost on almost 1 in 5 occasions where a Housing Options approach was made. This is concerning: Housing Options is intended to be a preventative housing pathway, but cannot function as such if local authorities lose contact with those trying to access support.
There is considerable variation among local authorities across all these statistics.

Homelessness and poor health are inextricably linked: people who have experienced homelessness are more likely to have a higher level of interaction with health services, and are more likely to have one or more health conditions relating to drugs, alcohol and/or mental health. For people who experience homelessness more than once, the relationship between health visits, health problems and homelessness is even more pronounced.

It is important to remember that this data only reflects housing need among households who approach their local authority for help and are recorded as doing so; the true level of housing need is undoubtedly higher. A recent study estimated that 8% of the Scottish population had experienced homelessness at some point in their life; this is an indicator of the large number of households who experience hidden homelessness, or other forms of housing need, who, for a variety of reasons, do not access services.