Moves to record homeless deaths a step closer with NRS promise

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) could begin to record the number of homeless deaths across the country after it pledged to conduct a review of its policy and practice.

Senior figures working to tackle homelessness last month called on the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland to urgently investigate the deaths of those who are homeless after research revealed at least 94 people had died while homeless in Scotland in the last 12 months.

Data released by investigative platform The Ferret in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) included 42 deaths recorded in the Bureau Dying Homeless database, along with a further 52 which The Ferret had learned of.

The Ferret added at the time that its investigations suggested the numbers were likely to be a “significant under-estimate”.

Despite calls to measure the number of such deaths in the same way as drug deaths are recorded, no official statistics are currently collected.

Now the NRS has said it is in touch with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) about its report and has promised to review its “practices and methodology”.

“At present, the homeless status of people who die in Scotland isn’t recorded on death certificates, which means that it isn’t possible to identify cases where a deceased person was homeless,” an NRS spokesperson told The Ferret.

“NRS is in contact with the Office for National Statistics, which is currently investigating to see how best to record homeless status of deceased people. We will review our practices and methodology in light of their findings.”

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, has previously called on the Scottish Government to investigate why people are dying while homeless and then use that information to redesign services so they can help those currently failed by the system.

Responding to the announcement, he said: “We welcome this commitment from National Records of Scotland to review how the deaths of people who are homeless are currently recorded. Shelter Scotland believes that the deaths of people who are homeless should be recorded so we can try to learn more about how to prevent this tragic loss of life.”

Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes, who chaired the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group in 2017, added: “We owe it to all the people who have died while homeless to do better, and good data will provide everyone working across homelessness services with valuable information that could help them prevent the deaths of these vulnerable people in the future.

“We know that homelessness is not inevitable and by working together across local and central governments, public services, charities and with the support of the public we can work together to end all forms of homelessness – once and for all. There is no excuse for this tragedy to carry on.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Data and evidence are key to developing effective and sustainable solutions, and we welcome the National Records of Scotland review.”