Homelessness: Are you in priority need?

For a council to help you with emergency or longer term housing when homeless, you have to show that you are in priority need of help.

Are you in priority need?

This is the third question the council should consider if you apply for help with housing because you are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

To decide if you qualify for emergency housing when homeless, the council has to have reason to believe you:

  1. are legally homeless
  2. have a right to live in the UK and are eligible for help
  3. are in priority need

The council must provide you with emergency accommodation if it decides that you are likely to be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.

The council then checks that you are not intentionally homeless and if you have a local connection.

If you satisfy all five of these questions, the council has to accept that it has a duty to help you with longer-term housing. You are provided with temporary accommodation until you are housed in longer-term or settled housing. This could be a council or housing association home or a private rented home.

Situations where you will be in priority need

You are normally in priority need if you or one of the people included in your homelessness application falls into one of the situations listed here.

Your children live with you

You are in priority need if you are responsible for children who normally live with you and who are:

  • under the age of 16
  • under 19 and in full-time education or training

If you've split from your partner and your children are only living with you for part of the time (for example, every other week) it can be complicated. You must tell the council the normal arrangements for care of the children.

You are in priority need if you are living apart from children you would normally live with because you don't have accommodation where you could all live together.

You're pregnant

You are in priority need if you are pregnant. You have to provide proof of the pregnancy from a doctor or other medical expert.

You're aged 16 and 17 and not eligible for housing from social services

Most homeless 16 and 17 year olds are entitled to accommodation and support from social services rather than the housing department of the council. 

If you apply as homeless today, the council's housing department should provide you with emergency accommodation. The housing department usually then asks social services to take responsibility for you. 

Social services would take over providing temporary accommodation for you while they assess what sort of ongoing help and support you need.

You're a care leaver aged 18 to 21

The council's homelessness department should automatically class you as being in priority need until your 21st birthday if you are aged 18 to 21 and spent at least one night in care arranged by a local council's social services department when you were aged 16 or 17. This may have been time spent with a foster carer, in a children's home or in any other accommodation arranged by social services.

Read more about help for homeless care leavers.

You've been made homeless by fire, flood or other disaster

The council has to accept that you are in priority need if you had to leave your home because of any disaster or emergency such as fire or flood.

Priority need if you are 'vulnerable'

The council should decide that you are in priority need if you are classed as a vulnerable person. You could be vulnerable because you:

  • are an older person
  • have a physical or learning disability or mental health problems
  • had to leave your home because of violence or harassment
  • have been in care
  • were in the armed forces
  • have been in a young offenders' institute or prison in the past

If you need care and support but don't have family, friends or social services that you can depend on, this may also be a factor.

The council won't automatically consider you to be vulnerable if you fit into one of these categories. For example, the council may decide that you are not vulnerable if you have an illness that can be controlled by medication even when you are homeless, or if you are over the age of 60 but are in good health. 

Make sure you tell the council about any personal circumstances that make it difficult for you to deal with your housing situation.

If the council decides you are not in priority need

The council doesn't have to offer you accommodation if you are not in priority need and is unlikely to do so.

The council must give you advice about your housing options or help you find somewhere else to live. In practice, this help is likely to be limited.

The council has to inform you of its decision in writing, explaining how it has reached this decision. The council must also inform you that if you want to request a review of the decision, you have to do so within 21 days. Find out what to do if the council won't help.

Use Shelter's directory to find a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or other independent advice agency in your area.

Karen's Story: 'The tips that helped me cope with homelessness'

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