December 2015

Fact sheet no. 10 EW Homelessness

This fact sheet tells you what kind of help you might get if you are homeless. It explains your rights, and how to deal with some of the common homelessness problems.

In partnership:

with NHAS and Citizens Advice

We would like to thank the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) and Citizens Advice for their help with the writing of this fact sheet.

Use this fact sheet to:

  • work out what housing you might be able to get;
  • help you apply to the council as homeless;
  • understand the process the council must follow; and
  • deal with problems you may face in trying to get housed.

This fact sheet includes some useful contacts and links for you to get further help.

Help from the council


If you live in England the council's responsibility is set out in Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, and the Homelessness Act 2002.  They must re-house you if they decide you:

  • are eligible for assistance (normally based on your immigration status);
  • are homeless or threatened with homelessness within the next 28 days;
  • are in priority need;
  • have not made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’; and
  • have a local connection. If you do not have a local connection the council can refer you to a council in another area for help.

The council must check whether you fit these criteria before deciding what help they can give you. If the council has reason to believe that they may owe you a duty, they have to accommodate you while they wait for any checks to be made about your homelessness application. They must also accommodate you immediately if you have nowhere to stay whilst any checks are made, even if the council are not sure whether they have a duty or not.

The council must make sure that free housing advice is available.


If you live in Wales the council's responsibility is set out in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. They have a duty to:

  • provide housing advice to everyone regardless of whether you are homeless or are threatened with homelessness;
  • prevent anyone from becoming homeless if you are threatened with homelessness within the next 56 days;
  • after 56 days, provide housing for those in priority need who have not made themselves intentionally homeless; and
  • provide emergency accommodation as soon as someone becomes homeless if they are eligible and in priority need.

Making the application

Try to go to an advice agency before you make your application because they will be able to make sure you know what your rights are. Your application will be dealt with by the housing department at your council. There are two routes to being housed by the council: one is by applying as homeless and the other is putting your name on the waiting list. For more information about the waiting list see the later section Other housing options.

Applying as homeless

The council should have an emergency phone number which you can call if it is out of office hours. This number might be on their answerphone or you could ask at the police station.

When you go to the council you will be asked for information about your circumstances. Take any important papers with you, such as an eviction order from the County Court or a notice to quit from your landlord. They will want to ask questions about how soon you are likely to be homeless and try to establish whether you are in a priority need group.

If the council tells you that you can’t make an application for rehousing as homeless, contact a local advice agency or ring Shelter’s free housing advice line. See Useful contactsat the end of this fact sheet.

Extra advice:

applying to be homeless

If you want to apply as homeless make this clear when you go to the housing department and ask to speak to the person who deals with homelessness.

It is very important to put your name on the council waiting list as well. See the later section Other housing options.

Refusing the offer


refusing an offer

Do not refuse an offer without getting advice first. It is probably safest to accept the offer and ask for a review if you think the accommodation is not suitable. That way, if your review is not successful, you can still keep the accommodation first offered.

Turning down any offer of accommodation, even if this offer is temporary, can mean that the council have 'discharged' their duty to house you. This means they do not have to help you any further.

Many councils will only make one offer of accommodation. This has to be ‘suitable’ in your circumstances. The accommodation you are offered does not have to be council-owned accommodation. If you are offered private rented accommodation you cannot refuse this.


The council must tell you in writing that you have a right to a review of the offer of accommodation. You are allowed to accept the offer without losing your right to a review of the offer on the grounds of its ‘suitability’. The review is supposed to look at how suitable the offer is based on the ‘needs of the applicant’.

Your belongings

If you are homeless and in priority need, the council must help you look after your property if it might get damaged or lost. The council may also help you look after your property if you are not in priority need. The council usually charges you for storage of your furniture and possessions.

If you are refused help

Everyone has the right to ask the council for a review of their homelessness decision. The council may provide accommodation while a review is being carried out. You should ask for a review as soon as possible, even if you do not have all the details you need to challenge the decision, as you can send these on later.

This is because the council only has an outright duty to review their decision if you request the review within 21 days of their original decision. The council should review your case and send you a new decision.

You can ask the council for a review of their decision if the council have said that:

  • you are not eligible for assistance;
  • you are not homeless or threatened with homelessness;
  • you do not have a priority need;
  • you have made yourself intentionally homeless; or
  • you do not have a local connection.

You can also ask for a review if you think the council has provided unsuitable accommodation.

If you are not happy with the way that the council deals with your enquiry then seek help from a local advice agency.

You can appeal to the County Court if the council still refuses to help you. Before doing this you must get advice from a housing advice centre. They will be able to check whether you have been given the correct information. If you make an application but the council says they are not going to help you, they should give a decision in writing telling you the reason. You can challenge the decision if it looks like the council made a wrong decision.

If you are in temporary accommodation, the council does not always have to let you stay there, even if you have asked for a review. The County Court has the power to order temporary accommodation is given to you once you have put in an appeal. To apply to the County Court, you would need the help of a solicitor. Contact us for advice on finding the right legal help for you.

Are you eligible?


seek specialist advice

The rules on eligibility are very complex. If you have recently come into this country or are a national of another country then you need to seek specialist advice. Contact Shelter’s free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 or contact us for advice.

You will be treated as eligible for assistance unless you are ‘a person from abroad’. Certain categories of people who are classed as a ‘person from abroad’ can be eligible, for example if you have:

  • refugee status;
  • settled immigration status; or
  • exceptional leave to enter and remain.

European Union (EU) nationals

The rules about EU nationals who are eligible for assistance are complicated. Some examples of situations where EU nationals may be eligible are:

  • EU nationals who are already working in the UK;
  • people who are self-employed;
  • EU nationals who have been in the UK for a long time and have established a permanent right to reside;
  • a person who is a family member of an EU national;
  • someone who is temporarily unable to work due to illness, an accident or is pregnant but has worked in the past; and
  • an ineligible person who cares for a child of an EU national may sometimes be eligible in order to continue to care for the child.

This is not a full list of why an EU national might be eligible for assistance in the UK. Contact Shelter on 0808 800 4444 or contact us for advice.

Homeless status


help if you want to live with someone who is homeless

The council might have to help you if the person that you want to live with is homeless and in priority need. It has to be reasonable that you expect to live with the other person, for example, because they are your partner or parents.

If you are threatened with homelessness in the next 28 days in England, or the next 56 days in Wales, the council must treat you as if you are homeless.

You are homeless if you are without any accommodation, but you can be counted as homeless even if you are not literally without a roof over your head. If you are unable to remain where you are living or you live somewhere that is totally unsuitable then you may be considered homeless.

If it is not reasonable for you to stay in your home because of violence, or the threat of violence, from any other person, you should be treated as homeless. This could be domestic violence or threats from a neighbour or stalker.

In priority need

The council will say you are in priority need if:

  • your household includes someone who is pregnant;
  • you household includes dependent children;
  • you are vulnerable (for example, because of old age or a mental or physical disability), or your household includes someone who is vulnerable;
  • you are vulnerable because of domestic violence or another type of violence; or
  • you are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood, fire or other disaster.

This is not a complete list of why the council might class you as in priority need. If you think you are in priority need because of another reason, check with your local council to see if this means they can help you.

Young people

Aged 16 or 17

If you are homeless, in most cases you are classed as a 'Child in Need' and are the responsibility of social services. This also applies if you have left foster care. Social services should take your wishes into account and should not offer foster care as a homelessness solution if this is not necessary.

Contact the homeless department of your local council who should provide emergency 'interim' accommodation to make sure you are safe. They will speak to social services. The council and social services will decide between them which department should help you in the longer term.

Care leavers aged 18,19 and 20

You will automatically be in priority need and should approach the council for help.

If you are a student who only needs accommodation during the holidays, social services have a duty to help you instead.

Intentionally homeless?

Extra advice:

living in Wales

If you live in Wales, each council can choose whether or not to apply the intentionally homeless rules when deciding if they should help you. If the council follow these rules they should only do so if you are in priority need. If you are not sure which rules your council follows, contact us for advice.

You are intentionally homeless if:

  • you deliberately do or don't do something (unless it was done, or not done, in good faith) which caused you to be homeless by leaving your accommodation; and
  • the accommodation was otherwise available for you to live in; and
  • it was reasonable for you to keep living there.

The council may decide you are intentionally homeless if:

  • you had somewhere else that was reasonable for you to live, but you chose to leave or to give up the property;
  • you are leaving somewhere where you can continue to live, and you are only leaving to get some help from the council;
  • you have contrived your eviction (meaning you have arranged with your landlord that they tell you to leave); or
  • you took on a new tenancy (or mortgage) even though you knew you could not afford the rent or mortgage payments at the time and you have now lost your home due to arrears.

There are other reasons the council could decide you are intentionally homeless, for example, if you were evicted because of anti-social behaviour. If you are not sure whether you have made yourself intentionally homeless, contact us for advice.

Reasons you should not be intentionally homeless

  • You left home because you felt threatened with violence.
  • Your home was repossessed due to arrears which arose because you could not afford to pay your rent or mortgage. You need to show you were in financial hardship and there was no way your income could cover your rent or mortgage payment (this will not apply if you could not afford the payments when you moved in).
  • The conditions in your home were so bad that you could not remain and it would have been unreasonable to expect you to stay.
  • You lost your home through someone else’s actions which you did not know about or had no control over.

If the council decides you are intentionally homeless and you are a family with dependent children, the council can refer you to social services for help. You have to agree the referral first. Social services has the power, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, assist you with finding accommodation, perhaps by helping with rent in advance and a deposit. If no housing duty is owed by the council, then social services may offer to accommodate the children only and any adults in the family would have to find their own accommodation.

Local connection


serving in the armed forces

You will be treated as working in the area if you are serving in the armed forces.

The council look at whether you have a connection to their area. If you have no local connection with the authority where you have applied then you can be referred to an area where you do have a local connection.

What is a local connection?

You will have a local connection if you:

  • have lived in the area for six months out of the last year, or three out of the last five years;
  • work in the area;
  • want to live near a close relative who has lived in the area for more than five years; or
  • need to live in the area for a particular reason, such as you or your family needing to go to a certain school or use a hospital that is there. 

If you have a local connection with the authority you have applied to, as well as to another area, then you should not be referred back to the other authority. If you have no local connection with the council you have applied to for rehousing they may ask another council to help you, unless there is a risk of violence to the household in the other council's area.

If you have no local connections with another area (for example, you may have just come from abroad) then the council you apply to first must help you.

Help the council has to give you

Extra advice:

priority need and intentional homelessness

If you are in priority need but are intentionally homeless, the council still have a duty to provide you with accommodation. The council will assess your circumstances and then provide accommodation for long enough for you to find somewhere to live for the long term.

If the council thinks that you may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need, theymustsecure temporary accommodation for you while they decide if you should be rehoused permanently.

If the council decides that you are homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and did not become homeless intentionally, they can do the following.

  • Refer you to another local authority if you do not have a local connection with the council you applied to.
  • Provide you with temporary accommodation until permanent accommodation becomes available. The accommodation should be suitable. If it is not suitable you have the right to ask the council to review their decision. See the earlier section If you are refused help.
  • Make you a final offer of accommodation from the council itself.
  • Offer you a tenancy from a registered social landlord. This is usually a housing association or similar organisation and is a permanent tenancy.
  • Offer you an assured shorthold tenancy with a private landlord from a list of landlords already approved by the council. This means the tenancy is not permanent but for a fixed term of at least 12 months if you live in England and six months if you live in Wales. If you refuse this offer the local authority will discharge their duty to offer you accommodation. They do not have to make you any other offers.


councils in Wales

Some councils in Wales may decide to help you even if they decide you are intentionally homeless. Check with the council to see what rules they are following.

Bed and breakfast

If you are pregnant ,or have dependent children, you should not be offered bed and breakfast accommodation unless there is no other accommodation available.

If you are offered bed and breakfast, the amount of time the council can let you stay there depends on your circumstances. There is a six week limit for families or pregnant households. Single people can be left in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer. The council must then find you alternative ‘suitable’ temporary accommodation.

If the bed and breakfast accommodation is owned by the council themselves, then you can be housed there for longer than six weeks regardless of your circumstances.

End of council help

The council no longer has to help you in the following situations.
  • You refuse to take up a suitable final offer of accommodation from the council. (The amount of offers you will receive depends on the council’s policy, but you must have at least one offer by law.)
  • You stop being ‘eligible for assistance’.
  • You become homeless intentionally. See the earlier section, Help the council has to give you? if you live in Wales.
  • You accept permanent accommodation from the waiting list.
  • You unreasonably refuse an offer of accommodation from the waiting list.
  • You turn down an offer of private rented accommodation.
  • You accept an offer from a registered social landlord or private landlord.

Other housing options

The council waiting list

You can go on the waiting list at the same time as applying for rehousing as a homeless person.

Councils have to have a scheme for deciding who can join the council waiting list. Individual councils have the power to decide who can join their list and why.

Reasons that someone may not be able to join a waiting list include the following.

  • Immigration status (this will prevent you from joining any waiting list).
  • Unacceptable behaviour, for example, serious anti-social behaviour or having previous rent arrears.

All schemes must give priority when allocating council housing to certain groups of people. This is called 'reasonable preference'. Individual councils can choose who they give reasonable preference to. Examples of groups of people this may apply to include:

  • people in overcrowded or unsanitary accommodation;
  • people in temporary or insecure accommodation;
  • people with dependent children or a pregnant woman;
  • households with someone who needs settled accommodation because they are ill or disabled; and
  • people who find it difficult to get settled secure accommodation.

Someone who is single and already has somewhere to live may wait a long time to be offered accommodation or may be excluded from some scheme lists altogether.

What if I disagree with the council’s decision?

You can ask the council for a review if they will not let you on their waiting list. This applies if the council have made a mistake, for example if information has been left out or ignored.

The deadline for requesting this type of review is normally 21 days. Contact us for advice.

Housing associations

Housing associations may be able to offer good accommodation at an affordable rent. Some will only let you apply if you already have your name on the council waiting list. In some areas housing associations and the council operate a joint waiting list. If this is the case you will not need to apply individually to each housing association.

Housing associations may have their own criteria of people who they will house first. Some associations are set up to help certain groups of people, such as the elderly or low-income families. The council should be able to give you a list of housing associations in your area. If not, you can find your local housing associations on the Housingnet website. See Useful contactsat the end of this fact sheet.

Private landlords

Private landlords often advertise on the internet, in the newspaper or in shop windows. Some choose to let the property through an estate agent or property agent. Agents will often run credit reference checks which means if you have missed payments on things like credit cards and loans, a private landlord may not agree to let you rent out their property.


paying your rent

If you receive Housing Benefit, this may not cover your rent payments in full. You should work out a budget before signing any agreements to make sure you can afford to 'top-up' your rent payments. If you are under 35 and live alone, you may have to top up more rent than if you were in different circumstances. For more information see www.gov.uk and type Housing Benefit into the search box.

If you decide to rent privately, look around first to find out what is on offer in your area and get an idea of what sort of rents are being charged.

You may need to find out from a local advice agency what maximum rents will be covered by Housing Benefit in your area. They may also keep lists of local landlords. Landlords who have a smaller amount of properties are more likely to rent you a property if you receive Housing Benefit. They are also less likely to run credit checks on potential tenants. Have a look at the house before you agree to move in or hand over any money. Ask for a receipt for any money you pay as rent or as a deposit.

There are different types of private tenancy agreements. Your rights are affected by the type of tenancy you take and what sort of accommodation you have. Before signing an agreement with a landlord get advice from a local advice agency. Most private tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies. These will usually run for a minimum of six months. You can be evicted with a court order using a bailiff's (also known as enforcement agent's) warrant just because the tenancy has ended, once the term of the tenancy has run out.

Help with deposits

In some areas rental deposits, or ‘bond’ schemes, have been set up to help people on low income or benefits to find private rented accommodation. These schemes help with rental deposits. Under the scheme you do not have to pay a deposit up front and the tenancy agreement is with a landlord from an approved list. Your council may also help with rent in advance under their homelessness prevention powers. Schemes vary so contact your local advice agency, local council or Shelter’s housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 for more information.

You may also be able to get help in the following ways.

  • Applying for Discretionary Housing Payments if you are already claiming Housing Benefit in your current accommodation.
  • Applying for a budgeting loan or advance if you are on certain benefits. For more information about benefits see www.gov.uk. Type the name of the benefit you are looking for into the search box.
  • Asking social services for help if you have children. Contact your council for details of your local Social Services department.
  • Applying to the council's local welfare assistance scheme. Check with your local council if they still run one of these types of schemes.

Extra advice:

deposits that are not protected

If your landlord does not protect your deposit in time, you may be entitled to compensation. It may also prevent your landlord from evicting you in certain circumstances. Contact us for advice.

From 6th April 2007 any deposit you have to pay for a new assured shorthold tenancy must be protected under a government tenancy deposit protection scheme. Your landlord must tell you which scheme they have used to safeguard your deposit money until the end of the tenancy. The schemes can sort out disputes between you and your landlord. For more information see the government website www.gov.uk.

Help with rent

You can ask the council for a ‘pre-tenancy determination’ before you move in. This should tell you how much of your rent will be covered by Housing Benefit if you are on a low income. You can apply to the council for Housing Benefit to cover the rent and Council Tax Reduction to help with your council tax once you have moved in.

Useful contacts

Housing Aid Centres
There may be a housing aid centre in your area.
For the address, telephone Shelter’s housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 or look at the Shelter website.

Law Centres
There may be a law centre locally that deals with housing issues. Look in the phone book or you can try:

Law Centres Network
Floor 1
Tavis House
1 - 6 Tavistock Square
Phone: 020 3637 1330

Citizens Advice Bureaux
The address of your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be in the phone book.
You can also check the Citizens Advice website:

Solicitors give advice on housing issues. If you get certain benefits or have a very low income, you may be eligible for free legal help. If not you may have to pay to see a solicitor. For a local housing solicitor contact:

Civil Legal Advice
Phone: 0345 345 4345

You can find a list of local housing associations on the Housingnet website.