How a council decides you are homeless

When you apply for help when homeless, the council decides if you are entitled to emergency housing and then if you should be helped with longer term housing.

What help can the council provide?

Every local council provides help for people who are homeless or likely to be homeless within 28 days. The amount and level of help you get depends on your situation.

Councils can provide advice to anyone who needs it, but not everyone is entitled to help with emergency accommodation or longer-term housing.

If you approach the council for help, you should expect to answer questions about your situation and provide evidence if asked.

Stage 1: emergency accommodation

When you go to the council to apply as homeless, the council considers if you need, and are entitled to, help with emergency housing.

Before reaching a decision, the council must consider these three questions:

  1. are you homeless or about to become homeless?
  2. do you have a right to live in the UK and are you eligible for assistance?
  3. can you be classed as being in priority need of help?

The council must provide you with emergency accommodation if it has reason to believe that you may qualify for help and you don't have anywhere to stay.

While you're in emergency accommodation, the council investigates your situation and decides whether to help you with longer-term accommodation. Your stay in emergency accommodation will be temporary. Sometimes this accommodation is in another council's area.

Use our emergency housing rights checker to see if the council should give you emergency accommodation if you are homeless.

Stage 2: long-term accommodation

The council goes on to consider if you are entitled to longer-term accommodation, if you are entitled to emergency accommodation or are you likely to be homeless within the next 28 days.

Before reaching a decision, the council considers these five questions:

  1. are you legally considered to be homeless?
  2. do you have a right to live in the UK and are you eligible for assistance?
  3. can you be classified as being in priority need of help?
  4. are you homeless through no fault of your own? You can be disqualified from long-term help if the council decides you made yourself intentionally homeless.
  5. do you have a local connection with the council's area?

The council looks at these questions in detail, makes enquiries and asks for evidence to help it make a decision.

If the council decides you qualify under the first four questions, you are entitled to longer-term housing.

You can apply to any local council for help, but it may not help if you don't have a local connection there.

Instead, it may refer you to a council where you do have a local connection. The council you applied to must continue to provide you with temporary accommodation while this happens.

The council makes enquiries

To enable the council to make a decision, a housing officer asks questions about where you've lived and why you left. The housing officer looks closely at your personal circumstances, your housing history and the decisions you've made that have led to your current situation. Be prepared to answer questions going back over several years.

It helps if you take important papers with you such as eviction notices, letter from your landlord, your passport and proof of benefits.

Use Shelter's checklist to help when you make your homeless application. 

How you are told about a homelessness decision

The council should complete its enquiries within 33 working days. The council then has to write to you and tell you its decision about your homelessness application.

You'll be told either that you're entitled to help with long-term accommodation or that your application has been refused. This letter is sent to where you're staying or you can collect it from the council offices.

The decision letter must state:

  • what the council has decided
  • the reasons why the council made that decision
  • that you have the right to request a review of a refusal to help within 21 days and how you can do that

You may be told the decision in person, but the council must confirm it in writing.

If the council decides to help you

If you're in emergency accommodation, the final step is a move into longer-term housing. You may eventually be housed in a council or housing association home or in a private rented home.

Moving to longer-term housing often takes a long time. You may be provided with temporary housing in one or more places while you wait.

If the council refuses to help you

The council must consider your application fully before reaching a final decision.

If the council doesn't do this or if it refuses to help you with emergency accommodation or to find longer-term housing, get advice on what steps to take when the council won't help.

Get advice if you want to ask for a review of the decision. A housing adviser or solicitor can find out why your application was refused.

Contact Civil Legal Advice for advice on asking for a review.

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

Karen's Story: 'Our application went better because I was prepared'

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