Emergency housing from the council

If you don't have anywhere to stay, you can ask the council for help as a homeless person. If the council believes that it may have a duty to help you, it has to provide temporary emergency accommodation while it looks into your situation.

When will the council provide emergency housing?

If you don't have anywhere to live and you apply to the council for help as a homeless person, the council has to provide accommodation immediately while it makes enquiries into your situation.

This should happen if the council believes that you are:

The council has to provide temporary accommodation if all these apply, even if it suspects that you may have made yourself homeless intentionally.

If you are homeless and eligible for assistance but are not in priority need, the council can offer to provide emergency accommodation for you, but it doesn't have a legal responsibility to do so.

What emergency housing is provided?

Emergency accommodation is only meant to be short-term and many areas have very little emergency accommodation available.

For single people and couples, councils often use hostels and bed and breakfast hotels for emergency accommodation.

Homeless families are more likely to be housed temporarily in flats or houses that are privately rented or leased by the council. If you, or anyone in your household has dependent children or are pregnant, you should only be placed in bed and breakfast in an emergency, and should not have to stay there for any longer than six weeks.

In some areas, such as London and other large cities, there is a shortage of emergency accommodation. Some councils may use temporary accommodation outside their own area.

Use our emergency housing rights checker to find out more about your rights. 

How long is emergency housing for?

You should be able to stay in the emergency accommodation until the council makes a decision about whether you are entitled to more help. The council will look into your application.

When it finishes its enquiries, the council may decide you are not entitled to further help. You will probably have to leave the temporary accommodation soon after you are notified of the council's decision. This may happen if the council decides:

  • you are intentionally homeless – you can usually stay in the accommodation for 28 days after getting the council's decision.
  • to refer you to another council because you don't have a local connection – this can only happen in some circumstances. You can stay in the accommodation provided by the council you applied to until the other council where you do have a local connection finds somewhere for you to live. You can't be sent to an area where you would be at risk of violence.

The council may decide that you are entitled to further help. If this happens, you may have to stay in the emergency accommodation for a while until the council can find longer term suitable accommodation.

Paying for emergency housing

You will have to pay rent in emergency housing. If you are housed in a hostel, you may have to pay other charges for things like meals or cleaning services.

If you are claiming benefits or on a low-income you may be eligible for housing benefit, but this may not cover all your rent and it usually won't cover other charges.

Storing furniture and belongings

You may not be able to keep your furniture and belongings with you at the emergency accommodation the council provides. The council has a responsibility to protect personal belongings  while you are in emergency accommodation if you can't afford to do so yourself. Most councils will put your belongings into storage and charge a fee for this.

If your circumstances change

If your circumstances change while you are in emergency accommodation, the council may take this into account when it makes a decision about what further help you are entitled to.

The types of changes that could affect the council's responsibility towards you include:

  • a change in the number of people in your household – for example, if you split up with your partner
  • you sort out your housing situation – for example moving suitable accommodation that you have found for yourself.

Problems in emergency accommodation

Emergency accommodation provided should be suitable for you and your household. Inform the council and get advice as soon as possible if you have problems in emergency accommodation, for example, if you are being harassed by other residents.

If you are offered somewhere that you don't think is suitable, you should tell the council why you don't think it is suitable. In practice, it would have to be very unsuitable before you could successfully challenge the council about it.

If the council doesn't offer you anything else, get advice from a housing adviser. An adviser may be able to help you to convince the council that you should be offered something more suitable for your needs.

Use our directory to find a face-to-face adviser in your area.

For legal advice, call the Civil Legal Advice helpline on 0845 345 4345.

Their advisers can advise you what to do if your emergency accommodation is not suitable. You may be able to get help from their legal advisers if you qualify for Legal Help funding. Be prepared to answer questions about your income and savings so the helpline adviser can tell you if you qualify. Shelter is one of the five providers of Legal Help funded advice provided by this helpline.

If you leave emergency accommodation

If you leave the emergency accommodation, the council can still continue its enquiries into your situation. It may agree to provide alternative emergency accommodation, but this isn't guaranteed. Get advice immediately if you are in this situation – use our directory to find a local advice centre.

Read Shelter's fact sheet  Am I Homeless? for more information on help for homeless people.

Last updated: 1 January 2014