Use of official statistics on ‘leading cause of homelessness’

by Owen O'Neill

2 months ago

Use of official statistics on ‘leading cause of homelessness’

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Use of official statistics on ‘leading cause of homelessness’

Details of a complaint made to Statistics.Gov.Uk by Property118 member Owen O’Neil

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to make a complaint about simplification of the context of statistics to the point of misrepresentation that would mislead the public which falls under this duty of your office :-

(III) official statistics in a document or statement are presented in such a way that, in the Authority’s opinion, they are liable to mislead the public or undermine the integrity of official statistics.

The statistic that I feel is being misrepresented to the point of being misleading is ‘the main cause of homelessness’.

This has now appeared in two recent official documents, with varying quality of the presentation of the overall context of the statistic.

The most egregious is :-

1) Tenant Fees Bill Impact Assessment

Page 5 “The leading cause of homelessness is now attributed to the ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)”

Then following behind we have :-

2) Homelessness report

“The ending of private sector tenancies has overtaken all other causes to become the biggest single driver of statutory homelessness in England. The proportion of households accepted as homeless by local authorities due to the end of an assured shorthold tenancy increased from 11% during 2009-10 to 32% during 2016-17. The proportion in London increased during the same period from 10% to 39%. Across England, the ending of private sector tenancies accounts for 74% of the growth in households who qualify for temporary accommodation since 2009-10. Before this increase, homelessness was driven by other causes. These included more personal factors, such as relationship breakdown and parents no longer being willing or able to house children in their own homes. The end of an assured shorthold tenancy is the defining characteristic of the increase in homelessness that has occurred since 2010 (paragraphs 1.14 to 1.16).”

(there is no mention that ‘statutory homeless’ is a narrow and selective subset of total homelessness)

A number of non-government organisations have made similar selective representations or contextual omissions when discussing the same subject.

The different authors vary in the quality of their description of the background, but none seem to provide adequate information as to the background to understand that this measure is a particular and restricted slice of homeless people that have been through a number of filtering processes. Given the political lobbying that a number of these organisations carry out, it would be reasonable to assume that their viewpoint and representation of the statistic is heavily coloured by their politics.

The single biggest cause of homelessness – Homelessness in Numbers Briefing #1

Shelter – Eviction from a private tenancy accounts for 78% of the rise in homelessness since 2011

Big Issue – What is the main cause of homelessness

Crisis – ending homelessness

Crisis – number of homeless people in temporary accommodation rises by 8%

Leading reasons for homelessness in England ranked by number of households

Age Uk – Homelessness Fact Sheet

Let’s end homelessness together

I have also been to a public meeting held by the Labour party where this throwaway ‘fact’ was stated without any kind of qualification.

This is a matter of public interest since it is being used as an argument for requesting a change in the law with respect to termination of a tenancy via use of a ‘section 21’ notice.

I fear if the context is not stated alongside the statistic then as the statement becomes repeated more often it will become an accepted and unchallenged ‘fact’.

To explain the context behind the statistic :-

Local authorities collect data on applications made to them….

.Gov  tables on homelessness

Table 770: Decisions taken by local authorities under the 1996 Housing Act on applications from eligible households

So for starters just to make an application you have to be ‘eligible‘ – I don’t know what this criteria is, but at least some applicants will fall out before reaching this point…

Total decisions 2017 112K 100%
Unintentionally homeless & priority need (acceptances) 58K 52%
Intentionally homeless & priority need 9K 8%
Homeless but not priority need 19k 17%
Not homeless 26k 23%

Only if you make it through that stage and are accepted do they collect data on the cause.

Table 774: Reason for loss of last settled home:
Households accepted by local authorities as owed a main homelessness duty by reason for loss of last settled home

Total acceptances 2017 58K 100%
Relatives/friends no longer able or willing 15K 27%
Relationship breakdown 10K 17%
Mortgage/rent arrears 2k 4%
End of AST 16K 28%
Loss of other rented or tied 3K 6%
Other reasons 11K 18%

It is this single table that all the statements are based on. We don’t know the quality / error rates for this data. For instance we do not know if there are secure tenancies (granted by RSL) being mis-reported as AST, also we do not know if the ‘rent arrears’ figure is accurate or if ‘end of AST’ also incorporates a significant number where rent arrears are the root cause. Given that failing to pay rent may result in being classed as intentionally homeless and hence excluded from acceptance it would be reasonable to expect that a former tenant would not be forthcoming to volunteer if rent arrears were the underlying cause. Furthermore ‘other’ comprises a significant amount of the cases, which have not been analysed to determine if this is bad data which should be assigned to another category.

Also note the difference between this and the next category (Relatives/friends no longer able or willing) is only 1% which is reasonable to suppose is within the margin of error of the data.

The primary categories of ‘Relatives/friends no longer able or willing’ & ‘Relationship breakdown’ are broken down into further sub categories within the published data – some authors further exaggerate the differences by comparing the amount of these sub-categories with the primary category of ‘end of AST’. Sadly page 7 of this parliament briefing paper falls into this trap.

Research briefings parliament

Whilst it does fall into this trap the above parliament briefing paper is otherwise reasonably well balanced in placing the statistic in context, which all other authors fail to do.

Research briefings parliament summary

“Local authorities in England have a duty to secure accommodation for unintentionally homeless households who fall into a ‘priority need’ category. There is no duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. For example, there is no statutory duty to secure housing for homeless single people and couples without children who are not deemed to be vulnerable for some reason.”

“Organisations such as Shelter and Crisis argue that the official statistics do not give a full picture of homelessness in England. The figures exclude those who are homeless but who do not approach a local authority for assistance and those who do not meet the statutory criteria. . For example, of the 29,340 applications for assistance that English local authorities received between July and September 2017, only 52% were accepted as homeless and owed a main homelessness duty; the remainder were deemed either to be homeless but not in priority need, intentionally homeless or not homeless “

Turning to repossession claim statistics :-

Government mortgage and landlord possession statistics

Repossession claims started 2017
146K (mortgage 18K, social 78K, private+accelerated 50K)

We don’t know how many of these are resolved and the occupier remains in the property,
or how many never get into the process to start with because the occupier leaves when served with notice.

There are figures on how many make it further through the process, but we don’t know the reasons for claims falling out of the process, be that the matter has been resolved or the occupier has left.

Repossession orders granted 2017
109K (mortgage 12K, social 58K, private+accelerated 39K)

It would be reasonable to expect that a proportion of those will resolve their housing situation without contacting the local authority

However it is clear that social landlords are granted 50% more possession orders than private landlords (and the private sector is a significantly larger sector) – so to suggest that none of these people are made homeless as a result of eviction by a social landlord is implausible in the extreme. It is possible that (pro rata for size of housing sector) – evictions by social landlords cause more homelessness than evictions by private landlords – but we don’t have data on this, further analysis of the reasons for an applicant not being accepted might reveal this.

It would seem a more accurate statement to say that “of people made homeless, and who apply to a local authority, and are eligible, and are accepted as homeless (about half of applicants) – then amongst those people the ‘ending of an AST’ and ‘Relatives/friends no longer able or willing’ are within margin of error currently equal leading causes”

I hope you will review the use of these statistics and issue guidance on their correct interpretation to authors so that the statistics do not become devalued.

Yours Sincerely

Owen O’Neill

 



Comments

John MacAlevey

2 months ago

Owen
An excellent, in-depth & valid analysis of how statistics are skewed to portray political slants.
This is dishonest & very damaging to everybody in the long run.
I commend you.
John MacAlevey

Monty Bodkin

2 months ago

Well said Owen.
Unbelievably misleading for official statistics.
"The leading cause of homelessness is now attributed to the ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy....mainly due to rent arrears."

Old Mrs Landlord

2 months ago

This pseudo-statisitic that landlords ending private tenancies is the main cause of homelessness was also quoted by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, in the opening remarks of his speech at the RLA's Renting North gathering recently. As far as I can tell it went unchallenged. In the media this statement is usually coupled with rhetoric about S.21 "no fault" evictions to imply that spiteful landlords are putting innocent victims out on the street just for the fun of it, which is plainly ludicrous. It's about time this 'official statistic' was challenged and a more balanced picture portrayed in the media. Do please keep us informed of the reaction to your complaint Owen.

Mike

2 months ago

I didn't read the whole article, however, I may differ in my opinion, there is a large proportion of homelessness in areas with Selective licensing, because it limits the number of people landlords can now rent to, and also limits the size of families, so the license to rent your property dictates how many people can be accomodated in any property subject to licensing, this means families with number of children whose sole bread winner working his guts out to feed a growing family and now has to pay higher rent to pay indirectly for the licensing fee, as well as forced to move out should the family exceed just one member and that can be a newly born child, as Newham count persons licensed to be of any age, this means that family will be asked to move out to a bigger house where the rent will be even higher and unaffordable! This is why there are more S21 notices served now than ever before, as well as the S24 impacting BTL landlords.

In my opinion Selective Licensing is the biggest driver of homelessness, as councils after council have now started to copy ill thought Selective licensing first introduced by Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, I wonder if he deserves a medal for driving rents up and making thousands homeless! Oh wait a minute he is fighting with rouge landlords! and who is the victim?

Mike

2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Mike at 11/05/2018 - 23:51i would also add that i personally have not evicted a single tenant using S21 or S8 unless the tenant stopped paying me rent for at least 4 months as I give them plenty of opportunity to catch up, and by the time S21 expires it is 6 months rent i am out of pocket. That said, I evicted just two bad tenants one cost me well over 9 months rent plus trashed place that cost me further £15K to refurbish. Been renting since 1995. wife's property no one ever been evicted since about 2003.

Mike

2 months ago

Many private landlords who use lettings agents do not always get to say what the agents do, to earn more commission from setting up new tenancies they charge landlords as well as tenants up front commission, which I am glad is being outlawed,
I once employed lettings agent and every 6 months they were serving S21 and I had to pay setting up fee, I got fed up and instructed my agents to only house long term tenants. There after an average length a tenant stayed was about 3 years, and those tenants would go of their own accord.

Therefore according to my opinion no landlord would want to evict a good tenant.

Heather G.

2 weeks ago

Excellent piece, well done. I'd be interested to hear if you get a response. And perhaps this should be circulated more widely (at least on other fora)?


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