The problem of families put in precarious, temporary accommodation when they are at risk of sleeping rough could be nearly ten times worse than the Government says, a new report has revealed.
The charity JustLife Foundation has warned of a trend of “hidden homelessness” as it estimates around 51,500 households were living in B&Bs in England in 2015/16. The Government says the total was just 5,870.
JustLife said the Government’s figures only recorded people living in “official” homeless accommodation.
It asked the 326 English councils for the number of households claiming housing benefits while living in B&Bs. It found, from the councils that responded, more 20,000 households living in B&Bs.
Analysing other data sources to fill in gaps, JustLife estimates that the actual number without a permanent home could be 51,500.
“The reality on the ground is not reflected in the widely accepted figures,” the report says. “Real homelessness is actually ten times worse than conventional figures suggest.”
In its report published on Tuesday, JustLife said the Government should acknowledge everyone living in “temporary unsupported accommodation” is homeless and create Temporary Accommodation Boards to help them.
Councils have a duty to rehouse anyone who presents themselves of being at risk of losing their home within a certain period. They are often temporarily housed in accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels with a licence that gives them permission to live there, rather than a tenancy agreement that gives a legal right to do so.
The JustLife report notes they live “with the possibility of eviction at any moment”.
It has been reported that much of this accommodation is dangerous and lacks amenities as basic as locked doors or bathrooms.
In a report last year, the Social Care Ombudsman said it “continues to see too many cases where councils are acting unlawfully by placing homeless households in bed and breakfast accommodation for lengthy periods of time”.
In the JustLife report, one man said he was “totally depressed” after living in a B&B for 18 months that had no working locks on any of the doors and bare wires hanging from the ceiling of his room.
He said: “One night while I was there, someone was shouting outside the house at someone else who lived there who owed them money. The person outside kicked the front door in.
“The police came and tried to call the landlord to tell him to fix the front door for our safety, but the landlord didn’t pick up or phone back.
“My mate and I had to find a hammer and nails and try to fix it to make it safe again.”
The man added he was only granted access to a kitchen during an inspection, although he was meant to be able to get three meals a day from it.
“The landlord went around all the rooms with the inspector – so we couldn’t say anything about what it was really like to live there,” he added.
The Justlife report added “anecdotal” evidence led it to believe there could be another 25,000 households on temporary housing, meaning the actual number would be 76,000.
Christa McIver, Justlife’s head of policy and strategy who wrote the report, said its figures showed that “there is so much we don’t know” about homelessness and it had to be measured more accurately.
She added: “We can no longer ignore the tens of thousands people stuck homeless, hidden and overlooked in our cities...
“Very few seem to care about the vulnerable people who end up in B&Bs, hostels and guesthouses. Once they are there they’re forgotten and it’s almost like we forget they are people.
“Their mental and physical health gets worse, and many can end up dead. Yet because they have a roof over their head – no matter how insecure – they aren’t counted as homeless, when they should be.
“Only if we acknowledge the problem will we really be able to start finding solutions.”
Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh told HuffPost UK that the JustLife report was “great at highlighting that homeless is bigger than the figures that are normally used” - but questioned whether councils had the resources to rehouse more homeless people than they already were.
In a statement, the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Everyone deserves a safe and decent place to live, and we are providing more than £1.2bn to ensure homeless people get the support they need.
“To ensure they can access permanent accommodation, we are also investing £2bn in social rent housing and allowing councils to borrow more to build homes.
“In addition, the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force this month, requiring councils to help those at risk of being homeless sooner.”