Homelessness: Are you eligible for help?

The council doesn't have to help everyone who is homeless. You're likely to be eligible for help if you're a British citizen. Some citizens of other countries may also qualify

Are you eligible for help?

This is usually the second question the council considers when you apply for help from the council if you are homeless or will soon be homeless. The council may call this being 'eligible for assistance' or 'not eligible for assistance'.

For you to qualify for emergency housing when homeless, the council has to have reason to believe that you:

To decide if you are entitled to help with longer-term housing, the council also has to be satisfied that you are not intentionally homeless and that you have a local connection with its area.

What does 'eligible for assistance' mean?

Not everyone who becomes homeless is entitled to full homelessness help from the council. This is the help that starts with emergency accommodation and ends with an offer of longer-term housing.

Your entitlement to help mainly depends on:

  • your citizenship or nationality
  • whether you usually live or are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK
  • your immigration status

There are different rules for British citizens, nationals of EU or EEA countries, and people of other nationalities. 

If your husband, wife, civil partner or parent is eligible for assistance, you may be eligible yourself (even if your relationship has ended).

Get advice if some members of your household are eligible for help and others are not.

Call Shelter’s helpline or use Shelter's directory to find an adviser.

If you’re a British Citizen or Irish Citizen

You are eligible for assistance if you are a homeless British citizen or Irish citizen living in the UK and you have not recently spent time living abroad.

If you’re from the UK and recently returned from abroad

If you have returned to the UK after living abroad for two years or more, even if you are a British citizen or Irish citizen, the council will check if you are 'habitually resident' in the UK.

The council might check:

  • where you live
  • where you work
  • where you have family or other social connections
  • where your belongings are

The council might also check the reasons why you have come back to the UK and what your intentions for the future are.

If the council decides that you are not habitually resident in the UK, you are not eligible for assistance.

You are eligible for assistance if the council decides you are habitually resident in the UK. In most cases, people will become habitually resident once they have lived in the UK for three months. If you make a new homelessness application at this point, the council may decide that you are now eligible for assistance.

If you have ‘indefinite leave to remain’

Citizens of countries outside the EU or EEA may have permission from the Home Office to stay indefinitely in the UK. This may be recorded as a stamp in a passport or in a letter from the Home Office.

You are eligible for homelessness help from the council if you are a citizen of any country outside the EU or EEA and have been given permission to stay in the UK with no restrictions on your stay.

To qualify, you must have been granted:

  • indefinite leave to enter or remain
  • humanitarian protection
  • discretionary leave to remain
  • exceptional leave to remain in the UK
  • refugee status

You may not be eligible for help if you have been 'sponsored' and you've been in the UK for less than 5 years. Being sponsored usually means a relative signed an undertaking to be responsible for your accommodation and living expenses.

You are unlikely to be eligible for help if your passport or letter from the Home Office says you have 'no recourse to public funds' or if you have overstayed your original permission to stay.

In these situations, it is essential that you get immigration advice from a qualified immigration law adviser.

Contact the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner to find a regulated immigration adviser.

If you are a citizen of an EU or EEA country

Eligible after five years residence

If you are a national of an EU or EEA country, you will be usually be eligible for assistance if you have lived in the UK continuously for five years and have been working, studying or supporting yourself as a self-sufficient person.

Family members of these EEA nationals are also usually eligible for assistance.

Eligible because you are or have been working

You will be eligible for assistance if you’re working in the UK. Work does not need to be full-time and you still qualify if you are doing genuine part-time work but need to top up your income with state benefits. Self-employment also counts.

You will also be eligible for assistance in some situations when you have stopped working, if:

  • you are a worker, have lost your job through no fault of your own and have registered as a jobseeker with JobCentre Plus
  • you’ve lived in the UK for more than two years, have been working but have had to stop because of permanent incapacity
  • you’ve had to stop work following an industrial accident or disease and are entitled to certain UK disability benefits
  • you’ve lived in the UK for at least three years and have retired after working in the UK for at least 12 months

Family members of EU nationals

Some family members of EU or EEA nationals are eligible for assistance with housing in their own right. For more information, call Shelter’s helpline.

Croatian nationals

Croatia is part of the EU, but Croatian citizens are usually only eligible for full homeless help from the council if they are registered as workers.

EEA nationals who may not be eligible

Most EEA nationals have a right to live in the UK but not all are eligible for assistance from the council when homeless. You are unlikely to be eligible for assistance if you have recently arrived in the UK and are looking for work or if you are a student

If either of these situations apply to you, get advice to find out what help you might be entitled to.

Call Shelter’s helpline or use Shelter's directory to find an adviser.

If you are a refugee

You will usually be eligible for help as a homeless person if you applied for asylum and have been granted:

  • refugee status 
  • humanitarian protection
  • discretionary leave to remain

If you are seeking asylum

If you arrived in the UK after 3 April 2000 and you’re currently seeking asylum in the UK you won’t be eligible for assistance from the council. If you have nowhere to live, you may be entitled to help from UK Visas and Immigration while your asylum claim is being decided.

Social services may also be able to help if you are under the age of 18 or have serious health issues. For more information, see the page on homeless asylum seekers.

If the council decides you are not eligible

The council has to inform you in writing if it decides that you are not eligible for assistance. The council must explain the reasons why it has come to that decision.

Get advice immediately if this happens.  

You have only 21 days to request a review to challenge the council's decision.

You have only 21 days to appeal to the court if your request for a review is turned down.

An adviser or housing solicitor can help you consider your options if you are unable to request a review, or if your review is unsuccessful.  You'll usually need help from a solicitor or law centre if you want to appeal.

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

Other sources of help

If the council decides that you are not eligible for assistance, it has no further duty to help you. However, you may still be able to get help in other ways.

UK Visas and Immigration provides housing and other support to people who are seeking asylum.

Social services can provide support (which may include housing) to:

  • women who are pregnant or breast-feeding
  • families with children
  • young people aged 16 or 17
  • care leavers
  • other vulnerable groups, such as people who are ill, disabled, elderly, or have physical or mental health problems

The council's housing department and social services should co-operate to help you.

For more information, see the page on homeless asylum seekers

Where to get housing and immigration advice

Questions about eligibility for help can be legally complicated if you or members of your family are not British citizens. Questions about immigration status and nationality are not always simple.

Useful websites with information on the rights of people from abroad include:

If you have any questions about your housing rights or your immigration status, try to get specialist advice.

Contact a solicitorlaw centre or find a regulated immigration adviser for immigration advice.

Call Shelter’s helpline or use Shelter's directory to find an advice centre in your local area for housing advice.

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