Researching youth homelessness: why it matters

Wednesday, 30 August 2017 - 5:05pm

For the past six years, Homeless Link’s annual national study on youth homelessness has provided crucial evidence to inform policy and practice. 

young homeless man

In early September, Homeless Link will circulate its annual survey on youth homelessness to service providers and local authorities across England. Our sixth Young and Homeless Study (jointly funded by LandAid and Comic Relief), explores how trends in youth homelessness and support provision have changed over time and between different geographical regions. The examples below illustrate the importance of this research in contributing to the evidence base on youth homelessness.

Impact of policy changes

Our Young and Homeless research aims to demonstrate the cumulative impact of recent and proposed policy changes on young people. Each year, survey data has demonstrated that young people primarily become homeless because parents or caregivers are no longer willing or able to accommodate them. These findings in turn challenge policy changes that are based on the assumption that young people can rely on familial support.

Findings from the 2015 survey show a large proportion of young people in accommodation services (44%) to consist of non-care leavers between the ages of 18-21. Our policy team used this evidence to argue against the discontinuation of the automatic right to the housing cost element of Universal Credit for 18-21 year olds. Now that these rules have come into effect as per April 2017, we have worked together with other homelessness agencies in persuading the Government to allow exemptions. Although we are pleased that young homeless people continue to be entitled to housing costs, we remain concerned about the efficiency of these exemptions. 

Scale of youth homelessness

The number of young people entitled to the main statutory homelessness duty has fallen significantly over the past 10 years. When considered in isolation, statutory data may indicate that the scale of youth homelessness has decreased in recent years. However, statutory measures of youth homelessness only partially represent young people’s housing needs. Many homeless people do not approach their local authority for assistance, and many single homeless young people are not captured in official statistics.

Our Young and Homeless survey data provides an alternative assessment of young people’s experiences of homelessness. Our 2015 Report indicates that 68% of the participating providers have experienced an increased demand for their services. These findings are not necessarily indicative of increased youth homelessness; the increased demand could be the result of other local services having been closed down. The findings do however support other service-based data, indicating that a decline in statutory homelessness has been offset by increases in other forms of homelessness (1). This vital information is used by our policy team and others to campaign for continued support for young homeless people.

Responses to youth homelessness

Our Young and Homeless research explores how the availability and nature of accommodation options and support have changed over time. Since the introduction of the Positive Pathway Model in 2012, we have situated our findings within this framework, exploring the support young people receive when navigating their journeys. The evidence highlights successes and improvements in responses to youth homelessness; for example, in 2014 over half of the responding local authorities reported having a positive pathway model in place (64% in 2015).

Our research allows us to highlight areas of the pathway needing improvement. In 2015, 42% of the participating local authorities reported an inadequate range of tools to prevent youth homelessness. In light of these findings, Homeless Link recommended that the Government should strengthen its commitment to act early in order to prevent homelessness. Homeless Link also continues to support local authorities and providers to successfully implement the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. 

A participatory approach

The National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) consists of young people between the ages of 16-25 who have experienced homelessness. Each year the NYRG provides practical recommendations based on the findings from the Young and Homeless survey. This year Homeless Link also consulted with the NYRG during the planning and design stage of the research project. By working together with these young people, the study aims to ensure that the findings and recommendations reflect their primary concerns.

We need your help!

This research is only possible because local authorities and providers take time out of their busy schedules to complete the survey. The responses form part of our sixth Young and Homeless report, which will be published and shared widely in March 2018. Please look out for the survey, and if you have any questions contact We look forward to your response.

1. Watt, B., Johnsen, S. and Sosenko, F. (2015) ‘Youth Homelessness in the UK: A Review for The OVO Foundation’, I-SPHERE, Herriot-Watt University