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London's temporary accommodation crisis – the latest data

White City Housing Estate woman walking
White City Housing Estate woman walking

London is at the centre of the country’s homelessness crisis. For the thousands of families and children homeless and living in temporary accommodation, this is having a devastating impact. Here, we explain what temporary accommodation is and look at the latest data on London’s temporary accommodation crisis and why it matters.

What is temporary accommodation?

When someone becomes homeless, their local authority has a duty to provide accommodation. While waiting for a home, people are often housed in temporary accommodation (TA). This can come in many forms, like bed and breakfasts or privately rented accommodation.

As the name suggests, TA was only ever meant to be temporary, but people can be stuck in TA for a year, or even longer.

The latest data

Total number of households in Temporary Accommodation (2011-2022) (2011-2022)

Since 2011 the number of households in TA in London has increased significantly. In 2022 – the last year we have full data for – 57,000 households were in TA, 51% higher than 10 years ago. The data from the first three quarters of 2023 suggests this is set to increase again.

This data comes from the government, and counts households rather than individuals. By another estimate, based on surveys of local authorities carried out by London Councils, the number of individuals in TA is much higher: 170,000. That’s one Londoner for every 50 – and the equivalent of one child in every classroom.

By borough

Proportion of households in temporary accommodation in London boroughs (2023 Q3)

Newham has the highest proportion of residents in TA by far. For every 1,000 households in the borough, 50 are homeless and living in TA.

But in just about every borough, the problem is acute. Every London borough we have data for, except Hounslow, has a higher proportion of households in TA than the England average. And in nine London boroughs, the proportion of residents in TA is five times higher than in the rest of England.

Unsuitable accommodation

TA can take many forms. Most frequently, councils use the private rented sector to provide TA. As a last resort, though, councils are increasingly using B&Bs and budget hotels.

B&Bs often have a lack of space for families, and people may be sharing bathrooms or be without internet access, laundry or cooking facilities. Because of their unsuitability as long-term homes, the use of B&Bs is time limited by law. But faced with no other options, councils increasingly have to rely on B&Bs to provide TA.

Number of households in Bed & Breakfasts (2011-2022) (2011-2022)

The chart above shows that in 2022 - the most recent full year we have data for - more than 3,000 households were living in B&B-style accommodation as TA. This is a 100% increase since 2011.

Data from 2023 suggests this has increased again. In the third quarter of 2023, 5,290 households were living in B&B-syle accommodation as TA – 25% more than at the start of the year.

Households housed in Temporary Accommodation in a different borough (2011-2022)

As well as often being generally unsuitable for living long-term, TA often sees families moved to new boroughs or even cities, miles away from jobs, schools and support networks. In the last decade, the number of households being placed in a different borough has increased by more than 100%.

Why does this matter?

Living in TA long term has a damaging impact on people’s lives. In 2023, Shelter carried out the largest survey among people living in TA. The findings were shocking: hundreds of thousands of people living in dangerous, unfit conditions, families living in TA for years, and deteriorating health and wellbeing.

The only roots I can think of are my plants. I haven't been able to adjust to the community.

- Groundswell research participant

Alongside the human impact, the TA crisis is financially unsustainable. With council budgets already stretched, local authorities are spending huge proportions of their budgets on TA. London Councils found that London’s boroughs are spending £90 million a month on providing temporary accommodation for residents.

What needs to change?

The current crisis is not an accident - it has been created by policy choices and can be solved by policy choices. We need to tackle the homelessness crisis at its root. Housing benefit levels need to be immediately raised so that people can afford a stable home. We also need to build significantly more social housing.

And when people do have to rely on TA, their stays should be as short, safe and healthy as possible. For this, we need national regulation and enforcement of quality standards.

We’re funding projects across London helping to strengthen the voice of TA residents. Read about this work here.

The data in this blog comes from London's Poverty Profile. Explore the profile here.