Homelessness: Are you homeless?

If you are homeless or likely to become homeless soon, a local council can provide you with advice and may have to provide you with emergency accommodation while it makes enquiries into your situation

Are you homeless?

The first question a council has to consider when you make an homelessness application is whether or not you are homeless.

You don't have to be sleeping on the streets or not have a roof over your head to be considered homeless. Most people who are legally homeless are not on the streets. There are many situations where the council must accept you are homeless.

If the council has reason to believe you are homeless, it must go on to look into two further questions to decide if it has a legal duty to provide you with emergency accommodation. 

These questions are:

To decide if you are entitled to help with longer-term housing, the council considers two further questions:

Situations when a council could treat you as being homeless

You don't have 'a roof over your head'

Situations where you are physically homeless include when you:

  • have nowhere to stay and are on the streets
  • may have been evicted, illegally evicted or required to leave your last place
  • have been released from prison or discharged from hospital with nowhere to go

You're under threat of homelessness

The council should accept you as homeless if it's likely that you could lose your home within the next 28 days.

This applies if you're a tenant being evicted from rented accommodation or if you're a homeowner threatened with repossession by your mortgage lender.

The council may try to help you negotiate with your landlord or mortgage lender. But if a solution looks unlikely, it should treat you as if you are already homeless.

Many councils will only accept you are threatened with homelessness if:

  • your landlord has obtained a court order requiring you to leave
  • a date for bailiffs to evict you has already been set
  • this date will be in 28 days or less

The council should accept you are threatened with homelessness if you live with a resident landlord or your family is evicting you and you've been told to leave within 28 days.

Don't wait until you are homeless before you go to the council and ask for help. Seek advice and help as early as you can.

You're at risk of violence

The council should consider you to be homeless if you or someone you live with is experiencing:

  • domestic violence or other forms of abuse within your home, including psychological violence
  • threats of violence or actual violence from outside the home

The council may ask you to provide details of the incidents. Evidence is helpful but you don't have to press charges.

You can't afford to stay where you are

Living in your home shouldn't be so expensive that you can't afford to pay for food and heating.

The council should consider you homeless if you can't afford to stay in your home because of:

Your accommodation is very temporary

The council should consider you as homeless if you are staying in very temporary accommodation such as a night shelter or emergency hostel, or women's refuge.

You are staying with friends or 'sofa surfing'

If you are staying with friends or family (this is sometimes called sofa surfing) but have been asked to leave, the council should consider you as homeless.

You've been locked out or illegally evicted

The council should consider you to be homeless if you can't get into your accommodation because the locks have been changed.

If your landlord has changed the locks, this could be an illegal eviction and you could get help to get back in.

Your accommodation is in poor condition

If your home is in such a bad condition that your health is significantly at risk, the council may decide that it's unreasonable for you to stay there and should class you as homeless. 

Overcrowding also falls under this category.

You can't live together with your partner or close family

The council should consider you as homeless if you don't have anywhere where you can live together with your partner, your children and any other family members who you would normally live with.

This might be because your landlord doesn't allow children or your accommodation is too small for you all.

You have a property abroad but you can't live in it

The council may decide you are not homeless if you have a home somewhere else, anywhere in the world. You may be expected to return to a home in another country. However, there are many situations where this would not be reasonable.

Get legal advice – a housing adviser may be able to help you. Call Shelter's helpline or use Shelter's directory to find an adviser.

You have nowhere to put your houseboat or caravan

The council should consider you as homeless if you live in a caravan, mobile home or houseboat and there's nowhere for you to park it or moor it.

When to get advice

You might not fall into any these categories but have different reasons for being unable to stay where you are.

Get help from a housing adviser so you can put forward the case that you are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

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

What happens if the council decides you're not homeless?

If the council decides you're not homeless or threatened with homelessness, you are told in writing how the decision has been reached. If you've already been placed in emergency council accommodation you will probably be asked to leave. Usually you are given notice of between one to four weeks.

The council only has a duty to advise you on finding somewhere else to live. It won't have a duty to provide you with any accommodation.

If you think the council's decision is wrong, contact an independent local advice centre as soon as you can.

An adviser may be able to:

  • look into your chances of getting the council to change its decision
  • persuade the council to house you while it reviews your case
  • help you find other emergency accommodation if the council will not accept that you're homeless

Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face adviser in your area or contact Civil Legal Advice.


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