Debt, family homelessness, and temporary accommodation: Assessing the policy landscape in England to enact change.

Contact: Katherine Brickell


Department: Geography

Institution: Kings College London

Project timeline: January to March 2024.

Project duration: 13 weeks.

Closing date: 1st December

Expertise required: Interest in housing policy and commitment to social justice. The policy assessment will require the student to be diligent, organised and methodical. Knowledge of Excel is an advantage.

Project Description: As the housing crisis in England deepens and the number of private rental evictions rise, family homelessness has become an urgent national challenge. In England, almost 100,000 households, including over 125,000 children, reside in temporary accommodation (Shelter 2023). Described as the ‘hidden homeless’ in England’s housing crisis, it is mainly single women raising children who live in these typically insecure, confined, and substandard forms of accommodation. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a rent-arrears crisis, particularly in towns and cities of Northern England, as households face threats to their incomes and private debt-taking (e.g. personal loans and credit cards) has exploded (Centre for Cities 2021).
Combined with the ensuing cost-of-living crisis, charities describe the ‘relentless pressure’ to meet monthly food and energy payments (Inman 2022, np) and debt having become ‘unavoidable’ for millions (Citizens Advice 2021). In this context, the research so far has sought to amplify the stories of single women with children who have experienced homelessness, living in temporary accommodation, and navigating rent-arrears and other forms of private debt. The research was conducted in partnership with the Shared Health Foundation in Oldham, Greater Manchester. The latter is a metropolitan county where more than three thousand children reside in
‘temporary’ accommodation for an average stay of two years (Shared Health Foundation 2019). Our research reveals how rental, council tax, and other personal debts are shaping families’ housing journeys into and on from
homelessness and temporary accommodation. It demonstrates how debt not only causes, lengthens, but also outlives family homelessness.

Description of the work involved: Through women’s stories, the research identified key policies, particularly at the local authority level, which are
causing a ‘debt trap’. We understand what these policies are in the context of Greater Manchester, but we need to understand how widely they are shared (or differ) across England. This is key for us to push for change, is to go ‘beyond the case’.

There are 317 local authorities in England. The student will undertake an assessment of the policy landscape in England via analysis of local authority policy documents and submitting and handling FOI data.

We estimate there being up to five specific policies that the student will be creating a picture of at the national level.

For example, one key policy is on housing allocation – this stipulates the impact of rent-arrears on the ability to bid for permanent housing. In Greater Manchester the rules are leaving indebted families stuck in temporary accommodation (e.g. hotels) for an average stay of two years.

A second example is carpet. Houses are provided only with bare floors, the policy being in our specific locality that carpet is ripped up between every tenant. This means that women are going into debt to pay for carpet and this
contributes to their over-indebtedness even after exiting homelessness.

How widely are these rules shared in England? What differences are there? And how does this inform the policy changes needed to enable women to escape the ‘debt trap’?

Student Benefits:

(1) The student will be part of planning meetings with our partner, the Shared Health Foundation, to decide which policies to focus on in the policy assessment. This would mean the student engaging with the original research data and co-shaping decisions on this. The student will also see inside of how partnerships between scholars and charities can work to mutual benefit.

(2) The charity is co-secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Households in Temporary Accommodation and the student will be invited to at least one of the APPG meetings in parliament. In-person numbers are capped in these, so it is a rare opportunity to see how data is mobilised in these sessions and what strategies are used to influence MPs.

(3) A key benefit is skill-building of how to work ‘ground up’ from stories and case studies – to the national level.