The UK’s Homelessness Reduction Act
In late 2021, to focus on rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing the British levelling up policy, the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was rebranded as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
One aspect of the UK government’s levelling up initiative is addressing homelessness and rough sleeping, defined as sleeping outdoors or in a place not designed for sleeping, such as a car or a vacant building. DLUHC, England was able to brief HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research in December 2021 on some of its recent efforts to mitigate homelessness and rough sleeping in England.
In the UK, there are three main categories of homelessness: those owed main duty, single homeless not owed main duty, and people sleeping rough. Local authority duties vary among them; families are given priority over most single people. However, with the passage of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) and the creation of DLUHC, more single people have received help.
The three focus areas of the Homelessness Reduction Act
Implemented on April 3, 2018, the HRA essentially places “new duties on housing authorities to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness and to take reasonable steps to relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants, not just those that have priority need under the Act.” The HRA has three primary focus areas: prevention, intervention, and recovery.
The brief from DLUHC, England highlighted that HRA has increased referrals from different agencies, which has allowed people in England more options for accessing assistance. Outcomes for early 2021 include the identification of prevention duties for 29,220 households between January and March 2021, of which 60 percent (17,530) secured accommodation for 6 months or more. During the same period, relief duty ended for 40,090 households because they either secured accommodation for at least 6 months or were reassessed as main duty (defined as duty owed to those who are homeless through no fault of their own, are eligible for assistance, and have priority need) because their homelessness had not been relieved within 56 days per HRA regulations and local authority implementation regulations.
The HRA’s creation of new statutory duties to address individual homelessness also addresses rough sleeping, which the UK considers a subset of individual homelessness. DLUHC noted that, although rough sleepers are owed some duties, they are not owed main housing duties. Rough sleepers therefore tend to be those who have lost access to main housing duties or no longer want assistance. The HRA assists these rough sleepers by giving them an alternative means of obtaining housing.
Declines in the number of rough sleepers
The fall 2020 DLUHC count of rough sleepers in England showed that, although the overall number of rough sleepers decreased from 4,266 in 2019 to 2,688 in 2020, the overall rate of rough sleeping has increased 52 percent since 2010. DLUHC, England states that individual issues such as mental health conditions and relationship breakdowns are major factors influencing the number of people resorting to rough sleeping but also acknowledges that these issues may derive from structural factors.
Although the HRA has been key to addressing the increased number of rough sleepers and homeless individuals in the UK, it has not been enough. The UK government is developing additional initiatives and increasing funding for programs such as Housing First and the Affordable Housing Program to address homelessness and rough sleeping.
UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities homelessness statistics. Accessed 7 February 2022. ×
England Shelter. “Local authority ends relief duty to homeless applicants.” Accessed 5 February 2022. ×
UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. 2019. “Causes of homelessness and rough sleeping feasibility study.” Accessed 3 February 2022. ×