What Is The Main Cause Of Homelessness In The UK?

Jun 8, 2022
4 min read
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It is important to note that anyone can become homeless and there is often not one sole cause of homelessness and often the various causes may be interlinked. 

A few unforeseen misfortunes and the lack of a support network is enough for many people to be at risk of losing their place to stay. And the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed that reality with the economic impact of the virus disrupting jobs and slashing incomes.

Personal factors and challenges can also lead to homelessness. Mental or physical health problems and substance misuse can see people struggle to hold on to their homes.

While the loss of a job or the breakdown of a relationship can mean that people cannot carry on covering rent or are forced to find a new home. This article will look at the causes of homelessness in the UK in more depth. 

Relationship breakdown

A main cause of homelessness in the UK is relationship breakdown. People can lose their home because their relationship breaks down and they no longer have anyone to share housing costs with, or they are unable to afford to stay in the home when living on their own.

The reason why this is a problem is that relationships break down for many different reasons; some people decide to split up and move out, others are kicked out by their partner/spouse or family member, or there could be domestic abuse involved which causes physical harm that makes it impossible for someone to stay at home anymore. 

The definition of domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or sexuality. Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness for women, and 2 women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. 

It's important to be aware that domestic violence does not always mean hitting your partner; it can also be isolating them from their friends and family by making them feel guilty for spending time with other people and refusing contact with others on their behalf because they won't let him/her go out alone.

Mental health problems

While many causes of homelessness are just that—causes, not reasons—mental health problems are the biggest cause of homelessness in the UK.

Mental health problems can be caused by trauma, abuse, and neglect; other health problems; alcohol or drug abuse. Other issues that people who have become homeless may have faced include:

  • Poverty – lack of access to money
  • Lack of affordable housing –the UK has a significant affordable housing crisis which is often due to local government not building enough homes for those on low incomes or benefits/pensions
  • Young people leaving care – as soon as they turn 18 often find themselves homeless young people because there is no support network to help them adjust to living independently


Debt can be caused by a range of factors, including medical bills and housing costs. It can also be a result of homelessness itself. If you’re homeless, you may have difficulty paying your rent or mortgage and end up in arrears with your home (if you still have one).

You might also have incurred debts while living on the streets—for example, buying items to keep yourself warm or fed—and now find yourself paying off those debts as well as caring for other responsibilities like childcare.

Another problem that can lead to debt is fraud. If someone uses your account details without permission, they could run up purchases in order to gain access to funds from what would otherwise be considered yours alone.

Debt resulting from fraud is particularly common among older people who don’t use technology frequently enough for this type of crime not only to happen but also go unnoticed for months at a time.

Private renting

Private renting is the fastest growing tenure in the UK, with 1.1 million households now living in private rented accommodation. In recent years, however, the cost of private renting has increased dramatically and in 2018 it was reported that the average rent for a two-bedroom house or flat was £1,217 per month.

To put this into perspective, consider that the average wage in 2018 was just over £26,500 per year – which means that even if you had all your income going on paying your rent (which is unlikely), you’d still be struggling to make ends meet!

Private renting is seen as the most common reason for homelessness currently. According to Homeless Link, the percentage of people losing their homes due to the end of an assured short-term tenancy rose from 15 per cent in 2011 to 29 per cent in 2015.

Annual statutory homelessness figures for England backed up this trend in 2019/20. The loss of a private rented assured shorthold tenancy accounted for 43,260 households who required help from councils to avoid homelessness. That is still around the 29 per cent figure seen five years earlier.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of homelessness in the UK and that has changed the main driver of homelessness. According to the latest statutory homelessness figures, the Everyone In scheme and the eviction ban introduced last summer meant the loss of a place to stay with friends and relatives became more prominent than the loss of a private tenancy between July and September last year.

Benefits cap and bedroom tax

In the UK the government’s benefits cap and bedroom tax has caused an increase in homelessness. The benefit cap was introduced in 2013, and it’s a ceiling on how much households can receive in benefits per year.

Benefits include things like housing benefits, income support, job seekers allowance and child tax credit—the money people on low incomes get from the government to help them survive.

The benefit cap reduces a household's entitlement to social security if their total income exceeds a certain level (currently £20,000 per year).

This means that families who rely on social security may not be able to afford rent or other basic necessities such as food or clothing once they've paid for accommodation—meaning they often end up homeless as a result of being unable to pay their bills after spending all their money on housing costs.


Poverty affects many people in the UK, and it can lead to homelessness. This is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors, so we will focus on two aspects:

  • The government has a duty to tackle poverty by creating wealth and redistributing resources.
  • Individuals have a duty to create wealth and maximize their potential through education and employment opportunities.

Immigration status

In the UK, there are many reasons why people become homeless. The main cause of homelessness for British citizens is a lack of affordable housing and not being able to afford it.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people don’t have citizenship in the UK or any other country; these are called “foreign nationals”. Their immigration status makes them ineligible for help from local councils when they become homeless (unless they qualify under another category).

This means that foreign nationals who find themselves without a home may end up sleeping on the streets or in an emergency shelter until they can get back on their feet.


The increase in the cost of private renting and mental health troubles are arguably the main cause of homelessness in the UK today.

However, as this blog shows, there are many different, interrelated reasons and structural factors as to why homeless occurs and Greater Change is working to help stop homelessness in the UK. You can find out how here.