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?

You can apply to the council for help as a homeless person if you don't have anywhere to live. 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.

How long is emergency housing for?

You should be able to stay in the emergency accommodation whilst the council makes further enquiries into your situation and decides if you are entitled to longer-term help.

Temporary accommodation following a positive decision 

If the council decides that you are entitled to longer-term help, you may have to stay in the emergency accommodation for a while until the council can find longer-term suitable accommodation.

Temporary accommodation following a negative decision

The council could decide that you are not entitled to further help. It must put its decision in writing and give reasons for its decision. You will probably have to leave the temporary accommodation soon after you are notified of its decision. If it decides you are not homeless, not eligible for assistance or not in priority need then you may have to leave immediately.   

If the council decides that you are intentionally homeless, you should be allowed to stay in the accommodation for a reasonable period to give you time to find alternative housing. The council should give you a date by which you are expected to leave.

If the council decides to refer you to another council because you don't have a local connection, you can stay in the accommodation provided 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.

Emergency housing if you challenge the council's decision

You can ask for a review of a negative decision or you can appeal to the county court. Until the review or appeal is completed, you can ask to stay in the emergency housing. The council do not have to provide further emergency housing but it should consider the:

  • strength of your case for a review or appeal including any new information which has been put forward, and
  • consequences to you and your family of not providing accommodation

Get advice if you need help with a review, appeal or emergency housing during a review or appeal.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice service or contact Civil Legal Advice.

You must be eligible for legal aid to get advice through Civil Legal Advice, so have information on your income and savings handy so the adviser can tell you if you qualify.   

Paying for emergency housing

You 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.

You may be eligible for housing benefit if you claim benefits or have a low-income. 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 put your belongings into storage and charge a fee for this.

Change of circumstances while in emergency housing

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 into 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.

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

Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face adviser in your area.

If you leave emergency accommodation

If you leave the emergency accommodation, the council should still continue its enquiries into your situation unless you have told them that you no longer need help. 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 factsheet  Am I Homeless? for more information on help for homeless people.

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