Homeless people's rights
This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
You may have more rights than you think if you are facing homelessness or have already left your home. Find out your basic rights.
Your right to stay in or return to your home
If you are asked to leave, it is important to check if you have the right to remain in your home. You may have the right to stay in your home if:
- your landlord tries to evict you without following the correct legal procedure
- after a relationship breakdown, even if you are not the home-owner or tenant.
If you leave your accommodation when you don't have to, or do not return when you have the right to, it could affect any right you may have to get homelessness help from the council. If possible, try to get advice before leaving.
Even if you have already left your home, you may be able to return if you still have the right to live there. You may need legal advice from a housing adviser or lawyer. Use our directory to find a housing adviser.
Your right to emergency housing
Local councils have specific legal duties towards homeless people. If any person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness approaches the council for help, it has to provide them with advice and assistance.
Some people are also entitled to accommodation from the local council. You are entitled to emergency accommodation if the council believes you fit certain legal criteria. To meet these you must be:
Each of these terms has a special legal meaning. To find out what sort of help you might be entitled to, use our emergency housing rights checker.
If you are aged 16 or 17, you are normally entitled to housing and support from social services. In most cases it will be social services that have to take responsibility for finding you somewhere to live, rather than the housing department of the council.
Social services may have a duty to help you
Social services sometimes have duties to help certain groups of people who become homeless. These groups include:
- most young people under the age of 18
- people who have been in care (normally up to age 21 or up to the age of 24 if you are still in full-time education)
- people with disabilities
- people with mental health problems
- older people.
Social services may also be able to help families with children but they are not legally obliged to provide accommodation where everyone can live together. If you are in this situation or have problems getting help from social services, use our directory to find a local advice centre.
You If you are homeless, you are still entitled to claim benefits. If you receive your money by giro, you can arrange to collect your giro in person from the Department for Work and Pension(DWP) rather than have it sent to you.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also be able to apply for a grant or loan from the Social Fund. Your chances of getting one will depend on your situation and the amount of money in the DWP budget.
Registering with a doctor if you are homeless
If you are homeless, you are still entitled to register with a doctor. You can do so using a temporary address, such as a friend's place or a day centre. You can find a doctor in your area by:
- visiting the NHS Direct website
- calling NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
There are also specialist medical centres for people who are homeless or roofless (sleeping rough). Call Shelter's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 or contact a local advice agency to find out if there is a medical centre near you.
The right to vote if you are homeless
If you are over the age of 18 and a UK citizen, you are still entitled to vote if you are homeless. Instead of registering at a permanent address, you can register at a temporary address or by making a declaration of local connection. This is a statement that you make to the local electoral office to say where you spend the majority of your time.
Homelessness rights if you are under 18
Young people under the age of 18 have different rights to benefits and different rights to accommodation if they become homeless. Your rights will also depend on whether you have spent time in care in the past. You could be legally entitled to help from the housing department, or help from social services, or both.
Housing and homeless rights if you have lived abroad
People who have lived abroad have different rights, which depend on their particular circumstances. If you have lived abroad, your rights depend on:
- when you entered the country
- the purpose of your stay (eg visitor, student, for work or marriage)
- whether you are seeking asylum
- whether you are an EU or EEA national.
You may need help from a specialist immigration adviser.