Staying in a hostel

Hostels provide temporary accommodation for single homeless people who need housing urgently and who can't get help from the council. You may be able to stay for a few days or even a few months.

Who do hostels for homeless people help?

Hostels help mostly single homeless people who are not considered vulnerable enough to be helped by the council. Some hostels also help homeless couples.

In some areas, there are hostels for particular groups of people. Staff in these hostels have specialist knowledge and provide specific support for:

  • young people
  • older people
  • women
  • people who have been sleeping on the streets for a long time
  • people with mental health problems
  • people with drug and alcohol problems

Some hostels are suitable for wheelchair users. They have ramps to access the building, grab rails and have wheelchair accessible bathrooms.

What are hostels for homeless people like?

Hostels for homeless people provide temporary shelter and food in a warm, safe environment. You usually have your own bedroom and bedroom door key. If you have to share a room, this is with someone of the same sex.

Hostels usually house both men and women in the same building. Rooms for men and women are usually in separate areas or on separate floors. Hostels vary in size. Most house more than 30 people at a time.

The room is usually furnished with a bed, wardrobe, table and chair. Your room probably has a wash basin but bathrooms and showers are shared.

Most hostels have a laundry, so you won't have to go to a launderette.

Hostels usually provide at least one meal a day, usually breakfast or evening meal. Most have shared kitchen facilities so you can make yourself a hot drink, use a microwave to heat food and prepare a basic meal.

Many hostels offer free cookery, art and computer skills classes, as well as sports activity sessions.

Find a place in a hostel

Some hostels are direct access. This means that you turn up at the door when they open to see if they have any vacancies.

Other hostels ask for a referral from an agency, such as a day centre or an outreach team. There are not usually enough places for everyone who needs one.

If you have to travel some distance to get to a hostel, phone them first to check if there are spaces. Some hostels have waiting lists.

If a hostel can't offer you a bed that night, they put your name on the waiting list and contact you when a bed becomes available.

You may need to show proof of benefits and a form of ID before you can stay. Staff can help you apply for benefits you are eligible to claim. They can also help with ID. However, you might not be able to stay until you have these. 

Find out how to get in to a hostel.

How long you can stay

The length of time you can stay varies from hostel to hostel. Some hostels have a maximum stay of one month. Other hostels may let residents stay for six months or longer.

To keep your room, make sure you pay the rent on time and don't break the hostel's rules.

While you're there, staff can help you find more permanent accommodation. This may be in longer-stay flats or bedsits. The hostel may have access to a limited number of council or housing association properties.

Don't be surprised if you stay longer than you had planned. In some areas there are a shortage of places to move on to.

When you do move on, you will probably move into private rented accommodation.

Hostel costs

Most hostels charge rent to stay.

Housing benefit can cover most of the cost of the rent, but you are expected to pay for other costs yourself including meals, using the laundry and heating. These other costs may be up to £35 per week. You can be evicted if you fall behind with payments.

Find out more about claiming housing benefit.

If you are eligible to claim housing benefit but you have no income, then you should still be able to claim housing benefit for a limited amount of time. Hostel staff can write a letter to your local council on your behalf, to confirm you don't have an income at the moment.

If you are not eligible to claim housing benefit, you won't be able to stay in a hostel. There may be free nightshelters and winter shelters in your area.

Support during your stay

You can talk to hostel staff about anything that's worrying you. Hostel staff are usually available during the day and sometimes throughout the night.

You can discuss things like:

  • what help you can get from the council
  • applying for benefits
  • accessing volunteering, training and work opportunities
  • finding move-on accommodation
  • alcohol and drug use

The hostel staff can help you make a plan for your future.

Some hostels have specialist on-site benefit advisors, nurses and drug or alcohol workers. In some hostels where there aren't specialist staff on-site, staff from external agencies regularly visit to provide additional support.

If you need more help than hostel staff can offer, they can put you in touch with counsellors, legal advisors, alcohol or drug workers.

Some hostel provide support once you have moved into your new accommodation, to make sure you are settling in well.

Hostel rules 

All hostels have rules to make sure everyone staying there is kept safe. The rules are explained to you when you move in.

Rules in hostels usually include:

  • no alcohol or drugs
  • no smoking in communal areas (but if there's a garden, you may be allowed to smoke there)
  • being in the hostel by a certain time at night
  • whether or not you are allowed visitors

Try to stick to the hostel's rules. You can be asked to leave if you don't.

You usually sign a licence agreement when you move in. This explains your rights and responsibilities when living in the hostel, including how much rent you have to pay. Talk to hostel staff if there's anything you don't understand.

Finding somewhere for your pet

Most hostels don't allow pets to stay with you, but some do.

Use Homeless England to find a hostel where your pet can stay with you.


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