Housing

Rough sleeping in London hits record highs as Home Office clears asylum backlog

More than 4,000 people were spotted rough sleeping in London between July and September as homelessness charities warn of refugees surge

rough sleeping in London

Rough sleeping in London has surged to new heights a year before the government pledged to end street homelessness. Image: Shando / Flickr

The number of people sleeping rough in London has surged to a record high amid warnings that Home Office efforts to clear the asylum backlog are driving people on to the streets.

A total of 4,068 people were spotted sleeping rough in London between July and September, according to the latest Chain figures.

That’s the highest quarterly rough sleeping count recorded in the English capital outside of a pandemic since records began, representing a 12% increase on the same period last year and a rise of a quarter on the 3,272 people frontline workers counted in April and June.

Half of the people included in the count were sleeping rough for the first time with the 2,086 people new to London’s streets 13% higher than July and September 2022. A total of 481 people were deemed to be living on the streets long-term – 17% more than the previous period in the spring.

The rough sleeping surge has been blamed on a change to Home Office policy which has seen an unprecedented number of asylum claims processed to clear the backlog.

The number of non-UK nationals street homeless in London has now overtaken the number of rough sleepers originating from the UK. More than 52% of rough sleepers in London are now originally from outside the UK.

It’s intensifying the existing homelessness crisis, warned Emma Haddad, St Mungo’s chief executive.

“The pressure of these rising figures is being felt across St Mungo’s, as requests for immigration advice and emergency housing increases,” said Haddad.

“It is fantastic that people are receiving decisions on their asylum claims, but many are facing inadequate time to prepare before they must leave Home Office accommodation. Our outreach teams are meeting more and more refugees on the streets.

“Being granted refugee status in the UK should be an immensely positive time in someone’s life, but finding yourself homeless is anything but a warm welcome to the country. There needs to be a proper transition plan that enables people to access benefits, housing and employment, rather than being forced onto the streets.”

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Tom Copley, deputy mayor of London, has written to homelessness minister Felicity Buchan calling for support to prevent street homelessness spiralling this winter following the “very worrying” increase across all areas of the English capital. He also said the Home Office policy was leading to “real stories of human suffering”.

“Without a change of approach, our combined spending and effort in this area can at best only alleviate the worst impacts, with no real chance of meeting our shared goal to end rough sleeping,” Copley told Buchan.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Big Issue it has taken “immediate action” to speed up processing times to ease presure on the asylum system.

“To minimise the risk of homelessness, we encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant,” the spokesperson said.

“We offer ample support once claims have been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for universal credit.”

The London statistics are the latest indication that the government will miss its target of ending rough sleeping by the end of next year.

Last month a panel of experts from the Kerslake Commission concluded that the government will fail to deliver on its 2019 Conservative Manifesto promise.

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis said a “devastating lack of support combined with crippling rents and high living costs” has now confirmed that’s the case.

“Make no mistake, the Westminster government’s target of ending rough sleeping by next year is now completely out of reach,” said Downie. “But we must not give up and just accept more and more people forced to sleep on our streets.

“We need a different approach from the government to ensure more people aren’t forced to bed down in a cold doorway this winter.”

Crisis, like Copley, pointed to a lack of support for renters as a key driver of rising rough sleeping.

The Big Issue’s End Housing Insecurity Now campaign is also calling for action to end no-fault evictions through the Renters Reform Bill as well as unfreezing local housing allowance rates to protect renters at risk of losing their homes.

Downie added: “The chancellor must invest in housing benefit at the upcoming Autumn Statement so that people can afford even the cheapest of rents.”

Meanwhile, homelessness charities supporting young people have warned they are at particular risk.

Chain figures show an 8% increase in the number of young people sleeping rough in London in the last year.

Balbir Kaur Chatrik, director of policy and communications at Centrepoint, said “potentially hundreds” more are experiencing hidden homelessness but could head to the streets in the months ahead.

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Fellow youth homelessness charity Depaul UK’s interim chief executive Alexia Murphy said the Nightstop service the charity operates – which allows members of the public to offer up a spare room to homeless youngsters – has seen a 30% increase in referrals.

“No young person should find themselves out on the streets – but without a clear plan and significant investment it’s inevitable that many more will in the months to come,” said Chatrik.

“The fact is that rough sleeping was already ended once in this parliament and the government have since lacked the political nerve to see it through.”

We’re calling on the Prime Minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials by:

  • Unfreezing Local Housing Allowance rates
  • Increasing Universal Credit to £120 a week for a single adult and £200 for a couple

Will you add your voice to our call and sign the petition?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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