What are the main causes of youth homelessness in the UK?

Wednesday 15 February 2023
Homeless teenager in a sleeping bag preparing to sleep on the street.jpg

It’s often a combination of factors which leads to a young person finding themselves without a place to call home

Young people often experience homelessness because it’s safer to leave than to stay where they are – a choice no young person should have to make.

Homelessness sometimes means sleeping on the streets. However, many young homeless people are sleeping on floors or sofas, on night buses or in cars or sheds. This population is sometimes called the ‘hidden homeless’. It can be less obvious than rough sleeping, but it’s just as risky and stressful for the young person experiencing it.

So what are the main causes of youth homelessness in the UK?

Family conflict

Relationships breaking down at home are a key reason a young person could find themselves without a place to call home. This is especially likely if there is conflict between a young person and their parents or step-parents. In 2021, eight out of every ten young people supported by Nightstop, Action for Children’s youth homelessness project in Dorset, left home due to a family relationship breaking down.

Several things can bring a family to this point, for example:

  • Divorce
  • Domestic abuse and neglect
  • Issues with drugs and alcohol
  • Bereavement
  • Parental conflict.

Often, a combination of factors are involved, with things escalating until the young person feels they can no longer stay, or they’re kicked out.

Young boy leaning on rail

Mental health challenges

Lack of access to mental health services or support plays a role for many young homeless people. The experience of being homeless can also take a huge toll on a young person’s mental and emotional wellbeing – a vicious cycle.

A high number of young people come to us with mental health problems. That's often because of the circumstances they're in - whether it's the family situation or if they’ve been in an uncertain position. Maybe they’re sofa surfing or sleeping rough, that’ll also be causing them anxiety and depression.

Maddy Lewis-Smith, Service Coordinator at Dorset Nightstop, which provides emergency accommodation to young people at risk of homelessness.


Financial hardship is one of the key causes of youth homelessness in the UK. In 2020/21, 3.9 million children were living in poverty in the UK.

In many cases, young people leave home because their families simply can’t afford to look after them. The family may be living in extremely cramped accommodation because it’s all they can afford. In one study, just under half of all homeless young people in England said a key cause for their homeless was their friends and family being unwilling or unable to accommodate them.

Young people in this situation may not know where to go for help finding somewhere to live. Affordable and social housing isn’t always immediately available. As the cost of living crisis deepens, it may become even harder to come by, putting more young people at risk of homelessness.

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Young people leaving care

Around 100,000 young people ‘age out’ of the care system each year in England. Young care leavers are often left to set up their own homes alone, sometimes with little warning or preparation.

Care leavers don’t always have the support networks or skills they need to live by themselves, for example money management. This puts them at greater risk of homelessness. Centrepoint research shows that 26% of care leavers have ‘sofa surfed’ and 14% have slept rough.

Some young people are more at risk of homelessness than others

Certain groups are more at risk of homelessness:

LGBT+ youth

It’s estimated that LGBT+ young people make up almost a quarter of all homeless youth. 77% of LGBT+ homeless young people believe coming out was the main cause of their homelessness. They may also feel less able to ask for help and support for fear of being judged or discriminated against.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are overrepresented in homelessness statistics. This may be due to social inequalities that make Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people more likely to experience poverty and other forms of hardship, such as being excluded from school or put into care. These experiences in turn increase their likelihood of becoming homeless. Black people are three times more likely to experience homelessness than white people in the UK.

Refugees and asylum seekers

Many refugees arrive in the UK after experiencing a lot of stress and trauma. These vulnerable young people are sometimes granted asylum in the UK only to find themselves without anywhere to live. With little access to help or support, this puts them at high risk of homelessness.

How Action for Children’s services prevent and tackle youth homelessness

A young female social worker greeting and shaking hands with a a young teenage boy

Action for Children provides practical and emotional care and support to help give children the foundations they need to thrive. By supporting children, young people and their families through services across the UK, we work to tackle these and other causes of youth homelessness and prevent young people experiencing homelessness long-term.

Three nights doesn’t seem like a lot, but with the intensive support given during the stay, it can be lifechanging.

Simon, Volunteer Coordinator at Dorset Nightstop
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