Winter homelessness epidemic looms as cost-of-living crisis hits: ‘Could be catastrophic’

Cost of living: Couple outline ‘significant impact’ of energy bills

The inability to afford housing costs is one of the leading causes of homelessness in the UK. Alongside , private rents have soared over the past year. After an alarming rise in the number of those presenting as homeless in the early months of the , and prices having risen considerably since then, a homelessness crisis looms this winter.

In the 12 months to March there was an 11.3 percent increase in households seeking homelessness prevention or relief from their council on the previous year. According to the latest report from the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities (DLHC), a total of 133,460 families were affected.

In particular, the number of households with dependent children becoming homeless rose by 23.6 percent to 56,340 throughout the year.

Although these figures may partially reflect the removal of restrictions on private rental sector evictions in place during the pandemic in May 2021, they also capture the early impact of the cost-of-crisis on the most vulnerable families.

In March, the annual rate of inflation in the UK was seven percent – just four months later, in July, it hit a 40-year record high of 10.1 percent. As everything from food to energy to housing has become acutely more expensive throughout the summer, many fear an explosion in homelessness throughout the winter months.

Homeless man in London

Nearly half of the people sleeping rough in London this spring were doing so for the first time (Image: GETTY)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on homelessness

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge heard about the charity Jimmy’s’ help for the homeless in June (Image: GETTY)

Kiran Ramchandani, Director of Policy and External Affairs at homelessness charity Crisis said: “We’re expecting the next few months to be very difficult, and the number of people experiencing homelessness across Great Britain is likely to rise. People are already facing price increases for bills, food and other essentials, and now we see concerning reports which suggest an additional burden with mortgage payments increasing to unsustainable levels for homeowners.

“We’re also very worried about the knock-on effect on renters. 57 percent of private landlords have mortgages and so increased costs may be passed on to tenants, which will pile pressure on people whose rents were already rising at record levels.

“Added to this, with housing benefit frozen and falling further and further behind actual rents, people on lower incomes will simply be unable to shoulder further cost increases and could lose their homes.”

According to the charity the average age of death for people experiencing homelessness is 46 for men and 42 for women – almost half that of the general population according to the Office for National Statistic’s (ONS) latest demographics.

READ MORE: Punters spend days in Wetherspoons as ‘can’t afford’ heating at home

Nicola Sturgeon Shelter Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon met with Shelter in September to hear from frontline advisers on homelessness (Image: GETTY)

According to Crisis, homelessness can result from the loss of a job, the breakdown of a relationship or the onset of physical or mental health problems. The most common cause, however, is no longer being able to afford housing costs. 

The DLHC attribute the surge in homelessness in the year to March to the number of households served with a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction more than doubling – going up by 121.1 percent – on the previous year, affecting 19,790 families.

Most recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice covering April to June show this trend accelerating as the cost-of-living crisis wore on – landlord possessions in England and Wales increasing by 29 percent from the beginning of the year. 

Of the 4,900 evictions recorded, 1,651 were under Section 21 orders – a 52 percent uptick from the previous quarter. According to Crisis, one in four households seeking homelessness assistance cited this as a reason, more than double the proportion from the same period last year.

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The latest reading of the Index of Private Housing Rent Prices (IPHRP) shows rental prices in the UK increased by 3.4 percent in the 12 months to August – the largest annual growth rate since the series began in January 2016.

Although housing costs have been rising across the country, online real-estate portal Rightmove in July found London’s annual rental price growth rate to have exceeded 15 percent – the highest ever for any region – to reach a new record average asking rent of £2,257 per calendar month.

According to statistics released by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) in August, between April and June almost 3,000 people were homeless in the capital. 

This is just under a quarter more than during the same period in 2021 and a 16 percent increase relative to the first three months of the year. Around half of those observed were found to be sleeping rough for the first time.

In order to prevent the situation from getting considerably worse as a result of the cost-of-living crisis in the coming months, the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping is calling for a temporary moratorium on evictions, as was the case during the pandemic. The Commission is also calling on the Government to increase benefits in line with inflation and to unfreeze and restore Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the bottom 30th percentile of rents.

In publishing their September 2022 progress report, Sir Bob Kerslake said: “The cost-of-living crisis we are experiencing has profound consequences for the country as a whole, but for those who are currently homeless – or are at risk of becoming homeless – the impact could be catastrophic. 

“The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, recently announced a freeze on energy bills, a significant intervention which will certainly help to protect many households through the coming winter. However, the current energy cap is higher than some households can afford; and rising rents and food prices are still driving more people into financial hardship. Further urgent action is required now, with a concerted focus on the least well-off.”

Crisis’s Mr Ramchandani added: “The government must immediately introduce measures to minimise the crisis facing people in the next few months. This should include increasing housing benefit so that it can cover the cost of rising rents and ensure people can remain in their homes. Without quick and decisive action now, many people – renters and homeowners alike – could find themselves facing homelessness this winter.”