A young female rough sleeper, Northampton, 2018
13.08.18 Homelessness

Government announces homeless deaths must be investigated

Authorities have been told they must investigate homeless deaths, as part of a new government Rough Sleeping Strategy.

The announcement comes just months after the Bureau revealed that homeless deaths are hardly ever reviewed in England and Wales, with, on average, just one official review a year being logged since 2010.

Now the government has said it will: “work with Safeguarding Adult Boards to ensure that Safeguarding Adult Reviews are conducted when a person who sleeps rough dies or is seriously harmed as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult.”

The government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, which was officially launched today, also promised £100m in funding to supply rapid specialist assessments and support including providing specialist accommodation.

The Bureau has been logging instances when people are dying homeless in the UK, either those sleeping rough or in long-term temporary accommodation. No other body is recording these deaths.

Since October 2017, we know that at least 138 people have died while homeless in the UK.

Some died due to natural causes, others due to drug and alcohol issues, and others because of violence.

Charities and experts have long called for official Safeguarding Adult Reviews - a review process that brings together a mixture of council officials, doctors and police - to investigate homeless deaths, to ensure lessons are learned and mistakes addressed.

Yet this has not been a government recommendation until now. Last May the Bureau found that there had only been eight official reviews into homeless deaths by any Safeguarding Adult Board since 2010.

Now, the government’s strategy has recognised “Safeguarding Adult Reviews are powerful tools, which unfortunately are rarely used in the case of people who sleep rough.” It is now recommending reviews happen for all rough sleeper deaths where there is any suspected abuse or neglect.

Elsewhere, some local authorities have been taking measures into their own hands.

In the wake of the Bureau and Leeds Live’s reporting on a run of homeless deaths in Leeds, the council launched a thematic review to try to get to the bottom of what was happening.

Last month, Richard Jones CBE, the independent chairman of Leeds Safeguarding Adults Board (LSAB), said: “The Leeds Safeguarding Adults Board is aware of recent reports from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that analyse a number of issues that are important for people who are homeless or sleeping rough; these themes and findings will inform the SAR terms of reference.

“The Leeds Safeguarding Adults Board will be considering the plan for this thematic SAR and the findings of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report at its next meeting.”

The government strategy also notes that the way all deaths are recorded will be addressed, through changes to the Medical Examiner’s practices. However, there is no mention of specifically recording and quantifying the scale of homeless deaths in the UK.

In this void of data the Bureau Local is working to count and memorialise how and when people are dying when homeless.

Our Dying Homeless Project is working with local journalists and charities across the country, including the Big Issue, the Bristol Post, Leeds Live and the Yorkshire Post as well as Streets Kitchen, Homeless Link and Housing Justice. You can read the stories from our local network, here.

We have also reported these stories in partnership with Channel 4 and the Guardian.

If you know of anyone who has died while living homeless you can help us record their passing, by filling in our simple form.

Header image: A young female rough sleeper in Northampton by Alex Sturrock/TBIJ