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In London alone there are as many as 12,500 people (1) who don’t always have a place to call home but are hidden from official statistics. This includes people who become homeless but find a temporary solution by staying with family members or friends, living in squats or other forms of insecure accommodation. These people are referred to as the ‘hidden homeless’ and 1 in 10 people will experience this per year (2), but this growing issue shouldn’t be hidden at all.


Data from the government indicates that the two biggest causes of hidden homelessness in the UK are the ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and the breakdown of a relationship (3). Common causes also include the need to escape domestic violence and other types of abuse. Among young people, the single biggest cause of hidden homelessness is a family breakdown.

Sofa Surfing

Although not officially without a home, a person may find themselves sofa surfing at friends’ houses, sleeping in cars or on public transport. Often a person might not want to rely on a family member or friend to give them a sofa to sleep on, so guilt and embarrassment forces them to sleep in a tent, sleep rough, or squat.

An individual who is ‘sofa surfing’ will stay temporarily with various relatives and friends while seeking permanent accommodation. Many people admit feeling like a burden on their host and move frequently to avoid “out-staying their welcome”, and this can often lead to more dangerous situations.


For those without somewhere to call home, or those concerned that they might find themselves in this position, there are a range of helplines and websites offering support:

  • Get advice from Shelter’s helpline – 0808 800 4444 (8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm at weekends)
  • If you are a woman fleeing domestic violence, you can contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
  • If you are under 18, you can get confidential support from Childline – 0800 1111, or visit www.childline.org.uk
  • If you’re currently without a home or at risk of being homeless, you can get help at one of Crisis’ 12 Skylight Centres – visit https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-help/ for more details

(1) - London Assembly Hidden Homelessness Report, September 2017

(2) - Homeless Link, Hidden Homelessness, December 2013

(3) - Homelessness Monitor, Crisis, February 2017

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