09 Nov 2023

The impact of the growing, and out of sight, out of area temporary accommodation crisis

The latest data from DLUHC shows that there are 18,630 households who have been in temporary accommodation for longer than five years, unable to move into more stable and permanent housing. The use of temporary accommodation for homeless households has been increasing since 2011 with the latest official data for January to March 2023 revealing a 10 per cent increase on the same period in the year prior. The length of time that households are living in temporary accommodation is increasing, meaning the negative impacts of living in uncertainty are longer lasting. It is well known that there is a national housing shortage and government targets to build new affordable housing have, so far, fallen short of what is necessary to address concerns.

Despite DLUHC official statistics demonstrating a steady decline in the use of accommodation ‘out of area’, research from The University of Nottingham has discovered a much larger figure than that declared. DLUHC statistics show that 10,950 ‘out of area’ placements were made in 2022/23, however results of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to English local authorities during our research found the real figure to be over 36,000. This calls into question the official data on homelessness released by DLUHC, showing the true scale of the phenomenon remains hidden and misses opportunities to address major concerns of the households affected.

In addition to the increased use of temporary accommodation, comes the increased use of ‘out of area’ temporary accommodation, defined as housing that is outside of the boundary of the local authority who are placing the household. The impacts of temporary accommodation are often devastating to households who are placed inside their own local authority, this is amplified for those who are moved away. Those interviewed for the recent research project spoke about the:

  • Loss of support networks and vital services
  • Impact on mental health
  • Fear of being declared intentionally homeless
  • Educational and emotional impact on children
  • Adverse prospects for employment
  • Concern for the complexity of the homelessness system
  • Lack of ongoing support from local authorities.

This is not to say that local authorities are not attempting to utilise their current resources to improve the situation. In fact, those interviewed within local authorities demonstrated a desire to reduce their use of ‘out of area’ temporary accommodation but admitted that they are unable to cope with the increasing demand alongside current budgetary restrictions. Within recent weeks, council leaders have called for urgent intervention from the government to step in and prevent the escalation in costs for temporary accommodation from overwhelming their budgets.

Research findings from The University of Nottingham’s recent project on ‘out of area’ accommodation demonstrate that organisations working within the sector are warning of the risk of further shortages of landlords within the sector, due to the increasing rental market value of properties in comparison to the still frozen LHA rate. This, alongside the severity of long term consequences for households who experience ‘out of area’ accommodation, shows the urgency of finding solutions to prevent an overwhelming crisis.

The most pressing mitigation for the increasing prevalence of ‘out of area’ temporary accommodation is an immediate change to the local housing allowance, returning it to a level that covers the cheapest 30 per cent of market rental value, as well as a continual reviewing process to ensure this stays in line with inflation. Further action for the reducing the impact of being moved ‘out of area’ could be found in additional support provided by local authorities once a placement has been made, as well as the provision of information to each household of the services in the area to which they have been moved. A shared responsibility is necessary to prevent the loss of vital services and education facilities for families who have been moved ‘out of area’. A notification system, as piloted by The Shared Health Foundation, would certainly provide mitigation for these impacts. Crucially, any intervention from the government must include further allocation of resources directly to local authorities and should consider both the fiscal and social consequences of not doing so on an urgent basis.

To ensure that the practice and its impacts can be further monitored, it is important that the data released by DLUHC provides a transparent, cross-referenced view of the figures relating to temporary accommodation, including that which is ‘out of area’. Further investigations are needed to comprehensively understand the causes of the practice and reviews should be sought if the government decides to intervene.

Written by Helen Lawrence

Helen Lawrence is a research assistant at University of Nottingham