Rough sleeper count ‘five times higher’ than official figure

“We still do not have a clear picture of how many people are forced to sleep on our streets throughout the year.”

Homeless person sleeping in a pedestrian tunnel

More than 28,000 people in the UK were recorded sleeping rough in 12 months, new research by the BBC has suggested.

In England, five times as many rough sleepers were seen by councils in the year than reported in official figures, which are a one-night snapshot.

New official figures are due to be released tomorrow (27th February), but the data for 2018 showed 4,677 people slept rough in England on the one night the snapshot survey was taken, down 2% on the year before but 165% up on 2010.

However, council responses to the figures showed nearly 25,000 people were recorded sleeping rough at least once in England during the latest year on record.

Homelessness charity Crisis said the snapshot could not “hope to accurately reflect the real scale” of the problem.

It comes as the government said it was providing £500m this year to homelessness and rough sleeping services.

In a breakdown of stats, in Oxford there were 430 rough sleepers recorded during 2019, compared with 43 during the single night count.

This meant the city had one of the highest rates of rough sleeping per household population outside London.

There are currently 2,645 households on the waiting list for council homes in Oxford, 1,023 of whom are existing tenants.

Cllr Linda Smith, deputy leader of Oxford City Council, said the number sleeping out on a single night had fallen 30% since 2017.

“There are obviously still too many people sleeping rough in Oxford, but the reduction shows the hard work that we and our partners have put in over the years,” she said.

The council is increasing spending on tackling homelessness from £6m a year to £7.4m covering beds, showers and meals as well as support for people negotiating with landlords and finding work.

In Wales the total was 599 rough sleepers but most councils referred to Welsh government statistics rather than providing full-year figures.

In Scotland the 2,800 recorded came mainly from housing applications in which people said they slept rough during the previous three months.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive only provided an estimate based on a single night snapshot, when it found 38.

In London councils referred to CHAIN, a database managed by the charity St Mungo’s with the latest full year figures covering 2018-19.

Whist central London has consistently had the highest number of rough sleepers, outside the capital, Hastings recorded the highest rates of individuals per household population out of the councils that replied.

Jon Sparkes, CEO of Crisis said: “Rough sleeping is the most brutal form of homelessness but we still do not have a clear picture of how many people are forced to sleep on our streets throughout the year.

“While the current government statistics on rough sleeping are a useful snapshot, based on counting people seen on one night, this cannot hope to accurately reflect the real scale of the problem.”

A Government spokesman added: “We’re committed to eliminating rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament and our efforts have already led to the first nationwide fall in a decade.”

“We’re confident our independently verified snapshot provides a good estimate of the numbers of people sleeping rough on a given night.

“This year we will give nearly half a billion pounds to councils and charities to support homelessness and rough sleeping services and get people off the streets for good.”

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