Homelessness applications

If you apply to a council's housing or homelessness department as homeless, it looks into your circumstances to decide what help you are entitled to.

Applying as homeless – step by step

If you are homeless and ask the council for help, it has to follow special procedures. This is what should happen:

Making a homeless application to the council

When you tell the council you are homeless, you should be interviewed by a council officer who assesses your housing needs.

The officer should ask you about your circumstances and allow you to explain how you have become homeless.

Help the council can give you

The type of help the council has to give you depends on your individual situation.

If you are homeless or likely to become homeless within the next 28 days, the least the council has to do is:

  • accept a homelessness application from you
  • give you advice and assistance to help you avoid losing your home (this may include helping you to negotiate with your landlord or mortgage lender)
  • give you advice about finding somewhere else to live

The level of advice and assistance varies depending on your circumstances.

Get advice if the council only gives you a list of bed and breakfast hotels, hostels and private landlords.

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

If you're not homeless yet

The council probably won't accept a homelessness application if you are likely to become homeless but not within the next 28 days.

If you are in this situation, get help with finding somewhere else to live. Your council's housing options service, Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice may be able to help you find a place to live.

Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser in your local area.

Emergency accommodation from the council

The council has to provide you with emergency accommodation while it looks into your situation if it believes you may be:

The type of emergency accommodation provided varies from council to council. When you first apply, the council may find a place in a hostel or bed and breakfast hotel. The council can make a reasonable charge for this accommodation.

You may be able to claim housing benefit to help pay the rent if you have a low income.

While you are in emergency accommodation, the council continues to look into your circumstances to decide if you are entitled to any further help.

Use our emergency housing rights checker to see if the council should give you emergency accommodation if you are homeless.

Protecting your belongings

If the council gives you accommodation because you are homeless, it also has to protect your belongings. This only applies if your property is at risk and you cannot make arrangements to protect it yourself.

Most councils put items such as furniture into storage. They must make sure your belongings are safe until you are able to protect them yourself or the council no longer has a responsibility to provide accommodation for you.

The council will probably charge you for looking after your belongings.

If you have pets

If you are homeless and have a pet, the council should consider arranging accommodation for you with your pet (especially if you rely on your pet for companionship) or arranging alternative care for your pet. However, not all councils pay for alternative care for pets. Ask if friends or family can look after them.

When the council makes a decision

When it decides if you're entitled to help or not, the council must tell you in writing about its decision. The letter must either be sent to you or left at council offices for you to collect.

If the council has decided that it can't help, the letter must explain the reasons why. It must inform you that you can ask for a review of the decision.

Get advice immediately if you want to request a review. You must to ask for a review within 21 days of receiving the decision letter.

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

After the council makes a decision

The council must continue to provide accommodation or help you get other accommodation, if it is satisfied that you:

Temporary accommodation might be provided by the council, a housing association or in private rented accommodation.

Temporary accommodation should be suitable

Temporary accommodation must be suitable for your household.

The council has to look at specific factors in deciding if the accommodation is suitable for you. These include:

  • how much you can afford to pay for the accommodation
  • the location and size of the accommodation
  • any effect it may have on your health

You may be able to challenge the council but you should find out first if you have a strong case before deciding what action to take.

If you refuse accommodation that the council considers suitable, it might not have to give you any further help. If you accept it, you can ask the council to review its decision about whether it is suitable after you move in. This means you have somewhere to stay even if your review is unsuccessful.

When you may be sent to another council area

If the council decides that you fit all the criteria apart from having a local connection, it may decide to ask a different council to provide you with temporary accommodation. This can only happen in certain circumstances.

If the council does decide to refer you to a different area, it has to provide emergency accommodation for you until the other council finds somewhere for you to live. The council cannot refer you until it has completed its enquiries.

If you have to leave temporary accommodation

The council may still have to help you if you have to leave temporary accommodation through no fault of your own.

But if you have to leave temporary accommodation because of something you have done, the council may not have to continue to help you. This could happen if you fall behind with your rent when you could have afforded to pay it or are involved in antisocial behaviour.

Get advice immediately if you are threatened with eviction from your temporary accommodation.

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

An offer of settled or permanent accommodation

If the council agrees it has a legal responsibility to provide temporary accommodation for you, you are allowed to stay in that accommodation until you are able to move somewhere more settled. You may be able to find somewhere yourself.

If you can't find somewhere, the council may be able to offer you:

  • a permanent council tenancy (councils have to give homeless households extra priority on the waiting list)
  • an assured tenancy with a housing association or a private landlord
  • an offer of an assured shorthold tenancy with a private landlord – if this is made after 9 November 2012 new rules apply

However, if you or any other member of your household is guilty of serious unacceptable behaviour (such as antisocial behaviour or serious rent arrears), the council still has a duty to provide temporary accommodation. But you are unlikely to be offered a council tenancy or a housing association tenancy.

Find out more about the type of settled accommodation the council can offer you.

If you refuse an offer that the council believes is suitable for you, you will probably have to leave your temporary accommodation. The council won't have to give you any more help.

Get advice about your homelessness rights

Contact a local advice centre if you are not sure of your rights. An adviser can look into your situation and may be able to put arguments to the council on your behalf.

Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser in your local area.

See Shelter's factsheet Applying as homeless for more information on help for homeless people.

Karen's story: 'My homeless application went well because I was prepared'

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