Homelessness doesn't just mean sleeping on the streets. It could be that you aren't staying in your own home or you don't have a suitable home. If this applies or may apply to you soon, we can help you understand your rights and how to get help.
What does homelessness mean?
You're homeless if you have nowhere to stay, but you're also considered homeless if it's not reasonable for you to remain in your accommodation. That might mean:
- you're staying with friends or family on a temporary basis
- your home is in a very poor condition
- your home is no longer suitable for you because of a disability or illness.
Homelessness is often caused by a tenancy ending, a relationship breaking down, or friends or family asking you to leave. In all cases, it's best to seek advice as soon as you can.
Will my local council help me if I'm worried about being homeless?
If you're homeless or at risk of homelessness, your local council may have a duty to help you. Legally, you're considered at risk of homelessness if it's likely you'll be made homeless within 56 days.
To get help, your local council must agree that you're homeless or at risk and you must also be considered 'eligible for assistance'. You're eligible if you're a British citizen, but not if you've recently returned from a long period abroad.
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Thinking about leaving your home?
You shouldn't leave a property or terminate a tenancy without first seeking advice. If you approach the local council for help, they may say you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’. They can't do this when you first apply for help, but if they've been helping you for 56 days without any success they may do. If they decide you made yourself intentionally homeless, they may stop helping you at that point.
What sort of help could I get?
If you meet the requirements the council will help you for around 56 days. It's important to bear in mind that the help you get will depend on your circumstances and needs, but may include:
- attempting mediation if your family have asked you to leave
- if you're in rent arrears, assessing whether you might be entitled to a Discretionary Housing Payment
- providing financial or other support to help you secure private rented accommodation
- making you an offer of housing, although this may be in the private rented sector
- providing sanctuary or other measures if you are at risk of violence or abuse and wish to stay safely in your home
- if you're sleeping rough or at high risk of sleeping rough, helping you to secure or securing an immediate safe place for you to stay.
You're likely to have to take steps too, for example attend property viewings or put in an application for social housing, and the council may stop helping you if you refuse to do this. If you're in this position, or if you do not agree with the council’s plan for helping you, then speak to an advisor.
How do I apply for help?
If you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness and want help from the local council, contact them and say you need to make a homelessness application.
Your council should be able to provide you with advice and assistance at any time.
If the council has ‘reason to believe’ you may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, they must assess whether you’re eligible for assistance. If they decide you're eligible, they must then determine whether they have a duty to help you.
When you first contact your local council, explain why you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness. If you need a place to stay while the council looks into your case, you should also explain how you meet the ‘test’ of being eligible for assistance set out above and why you should be considered a priority case. Local councils must provide emergency accommodation if they have ‘reason to believe’ someone is homeless, eligible and in ‘priority need’, which includes people who are vulnerable as a result of their age or other circumstances.
How do I prepare for the interview?
By bringing the following documents to the initial interview it is more likely that the application process will be quicker and more successful:
- proof of identity and immigration status for all household members, e.g. birth certificates, passports, residence permits
- evidence of where you live or were living, e.g. your tenancy or licence agreement, utility or Council Tax bills in your name, a letter from an official source addressed to you or saying where you have been living
- evidence of why you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness, e.g. a letter from your landlord, mortgage lender, or the court, or a letter from friends or family saying they want you to leave
- proof of income, e.g. benefit letters and wage slips
- letters from professionals involved in your care, e.g. doctor or social worker setting out your care and support needs or a domestic violence advocate
- crime reference numbers and copies of police reports.
Am I entitled to temporary accommodation?
The local council must offer you emergency housing while they look into your case if they think you are:
- homeless now
- have a priority need for housing
- meet immigration and residence conditions.
This is likely to be in a hostel or bed and breakfast with shared facilities. The local council must try to find accommodation as close as possible to where you were previously living, but in areas without much affordable housing you may find you're given an offer somewhere else. If this isn't suitable for you then it's best to speak to an adviser.
Youll have to pay rent in these types of accommodation but you if you're on a low income then you can usually claim housing benefit.
You can usually stay in emergency housing until your council decides if you’re entitled to longer-term help. However, if you're pregnant or have children then it's unlawful for a council to keep you in emergency accommodation for more than 6 weeks.
What can I do if I'm worried about someone else?
If you’re worried that someone you know is at risk of being homeless encourage them to seek advice as soon as possible. The sooner you address the problem the easier it is to resolve.
Our page What do if you're worried about someone has a lot of information on how to approach conversations like these.
We're here to help
We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 140 local Age UKs.