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September 3, 2022

Defining an end to rough sleeping

The government has released a refresh of its rough sleeping strategy, which was originally published in 2018. This is a key moment: it is the first time the UK Government has adopted a meaningful definition of ending rough sleeping.

Previous UK governments made pledges to end rough sleeping. In the past we’ve achieved reductions, only to see numbers of people forced to sleep rough rise again a few years later. We think that part of the problem is that there has never been a clear articulation of what the goal of ‘ending rough sleeping’ means in practice. Additionally, we didn’t have the kind of data and insight needed to understand what’s working, and why, to ensure progress is sustainable over the long-term.

England achieved one of the lowest rates of rough sleeping in the world, thanks to recent progress. There were 49% fewer people sleeping rough in England in 2021 as compared to 2017. This is a great achievement. and means that, expressed in terms of population, 4 people per 100,000 population slept rough in England in 2021, down from 9 per 100,00 in 2017. Amongst countries where we have comparable data, we could only find two other countries that had lower rates: Japan and South Korea. 

These great strides are now under threat as steep rises in inflation look likely to squeeze living costs for many millions of people in the autumn and winter, notably with a trebling or quadrupling of domestic energy costs for many households and big rises in rents in many parts of the country. 

A new definition of ending rough sleeping

These pressures make the focus of the new rough sleeping strategy doubly important and is why we at the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) are pleased to have worked closely with the Government to develop a new approach to record and drive progress towards this goal. The new strategy introduces this definition: that ‘rough sleeping is ended if it is prevented or is otherwise rare, brief and non-recurring’.

This alone is pioneering and introduces a common goal and real focus which will be essential to align efforts nationally and locally to make an end to rough sleeping a reality. 

What’s more groundbreaking is that this definition is underpinned by a data-led framework that has been collaboratively designed with CHI and five local area partners (London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Newcastle and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole). 

We’ve been working since March 2022 with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) alongside these five trailblazing local areas to co-design a simple but powerful set of metrics that will allow any local area to understand how effectively rough sleeping is prevented in the area and to track their efforts towards ensuring that, if someone does experience rough sleeping, it is a measurably rare, brief, and non-recurring experience. 

Specifically, the areas are testing ways of collecting consistent and comparable on the following core indicators:


  • How many new people are sleeping rough?
  • How many people are seen sleeping rough having recently left an institution like prison, the care system, or hospital?


  • The number of people sleeping out, introducing new regular data on the number of people seen over periods of time (e.g. monthly) in addition to existing ‘point-in-time’ snapshot data once a year


  • The length of time between the first time someone is seen sleeping out and moving into off-the-streets accommodation
  • The length of time between the first time someone is seen sleeping out and moving into long-term accommodation
  • The number of people experiencing long-term (sustained and/or recurrent) rough sleeping


  • The number of people seen sleeping rough who return to the streets
  • The number of people who are seen rough sleeping again after previously moving into long-term accommodation.

Richer, more frequent data on patterns of rough sleeping

This is a big step forward from the annual ‘point in time’ count which is currently the only data we have that is comparable across all areas in England. The framework will introduce a new nationwide focus on preventing rough sleeping, especially amongst groups most at risk of sleeping rough such as people leaving prison. And it will drive focus towards longer-term outcomes for people who experience rough sleeping, for instance by ensuring that people aren’t just supported into off-the-streets accommodation but into suitable and secure long-term housing. It will introduce a common data-set and also a common language to describe progress, celebrate success, and understand better where local efforts are working well and can be learned from and replicated, and where things aren’t working so well and can be changed. This should help local authorities and partners working on the frontline to ‘see the wood for the trees’, and align local partners (not just housing teams) towards a common goal.

Over the coming months, we’ll continue to work with the original trailblazer  areas and with DLUHC to try out this new way of using data to push towards an end to rough sleeping. We will be learning and introducing the approach to all  local authorities across the country as we go to help pave the way for a national model that we hope can equip the system to drive towards a future where rough sleeping is prevented wherever possible or is only ever a rare, brief and non-recurring experience.

If you would like to find out more about how the data-led framework will benefit your local area, just reach out to the team at hello@homelessnessimpact.org

Rob Anderson is Head of Practice and Partnerships at the Centre for Homelessness Impact

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