Intentional homelessness

If you meet all the other criteria but the council decides that you are intentionally homeless, you will only be entitled to accommodation for a limited amount of time. However, you may be able to get the council to change its decision and you may be entitled to help from social services.

How does the council decide that you're intentionally homeless?

It is up to the council to prove that you are intentionally homeless –you don't have to prove that you are not intentionally homeless. The council has to make enquiries into the reasons you became homeless and must be satisfied that all four of the following points apply:

  • you deliberately did (or didn't do) something
  • that caused you to leave accommodation
  • which you could otherwise have stayed in, and
  • it would have been reasonable for you to stay there.

If the council cannot prove that you became homeless intentionally, they should give you the benefit of the doubt, and not consider you to be intentionally homeless.

Did you deliberately do, or fail to do, something?

The council should look at the whole of your circumstances in deciding whether you deliberately did or didn't do something. It may decide that you deliberately did or didn't do something that caused you to become homeless if:

  • you didn't pay the rent or mortgage when you could have afforded to
  • you were evicted for antisocial behaviour
  • you left accommodation that you could have stayed in.

If you got into rent arrears or mortgage arrears because of genuine financial difficulties that were beyond your control, the council should not consider you to be intentionally homeless. This is especially true if you can show you did everything you could in order to save your home.

Did you agree to or know about what happened?

The council should not decide that you are intentionally homeless if you acted in good faith or if something you weren't aware of had an important impact upon you becoming homeless. This might be the case if:

  • you gave up your home because you didn't know you had a right to stay
  • you were given bad or misleading advice which caused you to leave your home when you didn't have to
  • someone you live with did something without your knowledge.

If you became homeless because of rent arrears and you thought your partner was paying the rent, the council may consider your partner to be intentionally homeless, but not you. This only applies if you can show that you were unaware of the other person's actions, did not agree to their actions, or couldn't stop them.

One adult is not usually responsible for the behaviour of another adult. So, if something that your partner/spouse did led to the family being evicted, s/he may be intentionally homeless but you can make a fresh homelessness application. Your partner/spouse can still be included in the application as part of your household. However, if you joined in the behaviour, or failed to do things that could easily have been done to stop it, then you can be found intentionally homeless as a result.

Parents are usually held responsible for the actions of their children, so if you have been evicted because of a child having behaved badly, you may be found intentionally homeless. The younger the child, the greater the likelihood that the parents will be seen as responsible, although this may also depend on what action you took to try to stop the antisocial behaviour.

Did you actually leave the accommodation?

For the council to decide that you are intentionally homeless, you must have had to leave your accommodation as a result of what you deliberately did or didn't do. It is not enough if your actions only stopped you from taking up accommodation (for example, if you didn't make contact with a landlord who had accommodation available).

You could be found intentionally homeless if you turn down a final offer of a suitable council tenancy.

Could you otherwise have stayed in the accommodation?

The accommodation you left must have been available for you to continue to live in. This means it must have been available for you as well as:

  • anyone who normally lives with you as a member of your family and
  • any other person who would normally live with you as a member of your family but can't at present because of your housing situation.

Would it have been reasonable for you to stay in the accommodation?

The council can't decide you are intentionally homeless if it wasn't reasonable for you to stay in the accommodation you left. This could be because:

  • you (or someone in your household) was experiencing violence or threats that were likely to be carried out
  • it was of a very poor standard compared with other housing in the area
  • you couldn't afford to live there unless you went without basic necessities such as food or heating
  • it was seriously affecting your health.

These are not the only possible reasons it might have been unreasonable for you to have stayed at your accommodation. You may be able to argue that it was unreasonable to expect you to stay even if you don't fit into one of these categories.

Overcrowding is not necessarily a good reason on its own, but is a factor that the council should take into account along with other reasons.

Get advice if you think it wasn't reasonable for you to stay, but the council says it was.

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

What if your home is at risk but you haven't actually left yet?

Many councils routinely advise people who are threatened with eviction or repossession to stay in the accommodation until the landlord or lender gets a court order and bailiff's warrant. The fact that they have given you a notice to quit or notice seeking possession does not mean that you are legally required to leave. It is usually advisable to stay where you are until this has been checked with the local council, as long as it is reasonable for you to stay there (see above).

You should check whether the correct possession procedure has been followed as it may be possible to stop the eviction at any stage, and tackle any underlying issues, such as debt. The procedures that must be followed depend on whether the home is owner-occupied or rented, and if it is rented, what type of tenancy you have.

Use Shelter's tenancy checker to check what sort of tenancy you have.

Did you have to leave because of rent or mortgage arrears?

If you have lost (or may lose) your home because of rent arrears or mortgage arrears, it may be possible to take action to prevent homelessness by dealing with underlying financial problems.

If you are evicted because of wilful and persistent rent arrears or mortgage arrears, you can be found to be intentionally homeless in some circumstances.

In some circumstances, it may not be possible to avoid eviction - for example because your home is not realistically affordable for you. If you are in this situation, you may be still be able to show that the arrears were a result of something beyond your control, such as illness, redundancy or failures by the benefits authorities. If you can show that this is the case and that you did everything you could to save your home, the council should not consider you to be intentionally homeless.

What happens if the council decides that you're intentionally homeless?

If the council considers you are intentionally homeless it has to inform you in writing.

The letter must explain the reasons why the council has come to that decision. It must also inform you that if you want to ask the council to review its decision, you have to ask it to do so within 21 days. If you think the council's decision was wrong, get advice.

Can the council still house you?

If the council decides that you are intentionally homeless but that you meet all the other criteria, it has to provide you with temporary accommodation to give you time to find your own accommodation. Most councils consider 28 days from the date that you are notified in writing of the decision to be a reasonable time. After the 28 days have passed, the council can ask you to leave the accommodation, although if you request a review, the council will sometimes allow you to stay until the review has been dealt with if you ask for this.

You will have very little protection from eviction while in temporary accommodation. At the end of the notice period, you can be evicted. There is no need for the council to get a court order. Get advice immediately if you are in this situation.

Is any other help available?

If the council decides you are intentionally homeless, it will probably refer you to social services to see if they are able to help, if you:

Social services might be able to help by:

  • providing accommodation
  • helping you to raise money for a deposit
  • offering you a range of services such as practical support, relationship counselling, or help with drug or alcohol problems.

The law doesn't say exactly what help social services has to provide and different councils have different rules. An adviser in your area may be able to give you an idea of the sort of help you might get.

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

Can social services take children away because the family is found to be intentionally homeless?

Social services cannot take children away just because a family is homeless. Social services can only forcibly take a child away from her/his parents if there is clear evidence of a risk of abuse and a court order has been obtained. If social services offer to house the children but not the rest of the family, the parents are not normally obliged to accept this option.

If social services offer to house the child alone, you should get specialist advice from a local Shelter advice centre or other housing advice agency immediately.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice agency that can help you

Challenging the council's decision

If you think the council's decision is wrong, get advice quickly. If you want to request a review, you have to do so within 21 days of receiving the decision letter. Housing law is very complicated but an adviser will be able to:

  • tell you whether you have a good case for getting the decision reviewed
  • help in the review process
  • help you to appeal further if the council still refuses to help you
  • convince the council to give you more time in temporary accommodation
  • help you find somewhere else to live if you can't change the council's decision.

Use our directory to find a local advice agency that can help you.

Read Sheter's factsheet Am I intentionally homeless? for more information on being homeless intentionally.

Last updated: 1 January 2014