Homeless and not eligible for assistance

If you make a homelessness application, the council has to consider whether you are eligible for assistance. This page explains how this is decided.

Being eligible for assistance as homeless

If you apply as homeless, the council has to look into your circumstances to decide how it should help you. One of the things they will check is whether you are eligible for assistance. The rules on this depend on a number of things including:

  • your immigration status
  • whether you are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK
  • your country of origin, and
  • whether you are classed as a ‘worker’.

Being eligible for assistance does not necessarily mean that you will be entitled to accommodation from the council. If you are not entitled to accommodation from the council as a homeless person, you may still be entitled to housing benefit, to pay for private accommodation.

The council will also have to consider your other circumstances, including whether you:

Ask the housing department of your council or an adviser for further information about these situations.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice services in your area. 

Deciding who is eligible to apply as homeless

British citizens who are living in the UK, who have not recently spent time living abroad and who are homeless, will be eligible to apply for assistance.However, different rules apply to people whose main home is in another country.

Read Shelter's factsheet Am I eligible for assistance? for more information on who qualifies for help as homeless.

The habitual resident test

If you have recently returned to the UK after living abroad, even if you are a British citizen, the council must check whether you meet the habitual residence test. This involves looking at where your usual place of residence is. If you are not habitually resident in the UK, you will not be eligible for assistance.

The council should check:

  • where you live
  • where you work
  • where you have family or other social connections
  • where your belongings are
  • the reasons why you have come to live in the UK
  • what your intentions for the future are.

If the council tells you that it does not consider you to be habitually resident in the UK, get advice as it can be difficult to challenge their decision. If you fail the habitual residence test this may also affect your entitlement to benefits such as income support, jobseekers allowance and housing benefit.

In most cases, people will become habitually resident in the UK once they have lived here for a few months. If you make a new homelessness application at this point, the council may decide that you are eligible for assistance, even if you were not eligible before.

Use our emergency housing rights checker to check if you're entitled to any help with housing

Some members of the household are eligible for assistance and others are not

The rules for mixed-eligibility households – where some members are eligible and others are not – are complicated. Get advice if one person in your household is an EU national and another is not, especially if you have dependent children. The eligible person in your household should apply to the council for assistance.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice services in your area. 

What if the person applying is a UK or EU/EEA national?

If you are a British Citizen or an EU national with the right to reside, but the person who is in priority need in your household is subject to immigration control, then only a limited duty will be owed by your council. In these situations, councils will normally arrange a tenancy for you with a private landlord, which may be paid for by housing benefit – however, this might not cover all your rent.

This private tenancy must be for at least a year, but if you refuse an offer like this, the council may no longer have any duty to help you. It is very unlikely that you will be offered a permanent council or housing association home, so always get advice before you turn any offer down.

If the council decides that they will house you, they will take everyone in your household into account (both eligible and ineligible) when deciding what sort of accommodation is suitable for you.

What if you’ve split up?

The family members of the persons set out above may be eligible for assistance, including if you are:

  • the child and spouse of an eligible person – even if families have split up,
  • the former spouse or civil partner of a worker, 
  • the direct descendants of a worker and you are under 21, 
  • other dependents of the worker, or their spouse/civil partner will be eligible.

You don’t necessarily have to be an EU national yourself to be eligible for assistance.

Even if you have split up/divorced and your partner/spouse has left the UK, or no longer qualifies for some other reason, you will have a right of residence while you are responsible for the children and they are in education.

What happens if immigration status changes?

If your immigration status changes, before the council makes a decision, this may affect the decision:

  • If your position has improved (for example you have been granted permission to stay in the UK), inform the council as soon as possible.
  • If your position has worsened (for example if your asylum appeal has been lost) you are required by law to tell the council – if you don't, you may lose any housing that has been provided.

Last updated: 1 January 2014