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The government must improve the quality of rough-sleeping figures in England, the head of the UK statistics regulator has said following accusations that some councils have deliberately underreported the scale of the crisis in their area.

Official government statistics reported a 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018 after seven consecutive years of rises when the figures were released in January. But Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), has become the latest official to raise concerns about whether the numbers reflect the reality on the streets.

The regulator has urged the government to improve the quality of the figures and explain the effect of a short-term funding boost, which led to some recipient local authorities changing their counting methodology for 2018.

The rough-sleeping statistics for England, based on a combination of estimates and spot counts on a single night in autumn, are intended to include everyone about to bed down or already bedded down on the street, in doorways, parks, tents and sheds but not hostels or shelters.

Estimates, akin to a local census, are typically agreed by agencies who work closely with rough sleepers in the area all year round, whereas street counts are one-night snapshots.

The UKSA chief noted a “significant” increase in the number of local authorities switching from an estimate to a count, which critics say records a fraction of the true rough-sleeping population, particularly in the 83 local authorities that received extra funding through the rough sleeping initiative (RSI) from central government.

“We would expect the department to plan for better statistics on rough sleeping in a period shorter than nine years, to publish those plans, and to give greater clarity about the impact that the apparent change in rough-sleeping methods used by some local authorities may have had on the comparability of the statistical series,” said Norgrove in response to concerns raised by the shadow housing secretary, John Healey. Read more

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