Homeless people's rights

You may have more rights than you think if you are facing homelessness or have already left your home. Find out what help you can get and what your basic rights are. 

Rights to stay in or return to your home

You have the right to stay in your home until you are lawfully evicted. Your landlord must follow the correct legal procedure to evict you.

It could affect any right you may have to get homelessness help from the council if you leave your home when you don't have to or don't return when you have the right to.

Even if you have already left your home, you may be able to return if you still have the right to live there.

It's important to get legal advice from a housing adviser or lawyer. Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

Right to emergency housing

Local councils have specific legal duties towards homeless people. The council has to provide advice and assistance to anyone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness and approaches them for help.

Some people are also entitled to emergency accommodation from the council. This applies if the council believes you may meet certain legal criteria. There are if:

Each of these terms has a special legal meaning.

If you are aged 16 or 17, you are normally entitled to housing and support from your local council . In most cases, it's the social services department that has to take responsibility for finding you somewhere to live.

Contact Civil Legal Advice if you are homeless and the council refuses to help you. Their advisers can advise on the council's housing duties.

You may be able to get help from their legal advisers if you qualify for legal aid. Be prepared to answer questions about your income and savings so the helpline adviser can tell you if you qualify.

Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you if you are not sure of your rights.

Right to housing help from social services

The social services department of the council may sometimes have a duty to help certain groups of people who become homeless. These 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 25 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 you if you have dependent children and the council's housing department has decided that you are ;not eligible for assistance or intentionally homeless.

Contact Civil Legal Advice or use Shelter's directory to find a local advice agency if you are in this situation or have problems getting help from the council.

Right to register to vote if you are homeless

You can register to vote if you have no fixed address. This could be because you are homeless, staying in a hostel or nightshelter, in prison on remand or a patient in a mental health hospital. 

To register, you must be resident in the UK and 16 years or over and you must be a British or Irish citizen.

You also qualify to register if you are a citizen of a country of the:

  • European Union
  • Commonwealth and you either don't need permission to stay or have leave to enter or remain in the UK 

You must make 'declaration of local connection'. This is a statement that you make to a local electoral office to say where you spend most of your time.

You can get a form to apply from the electoral registration office of your local council. You'll need to provide details of your name, date of birth and National Insurance number. You may be asked to provide other proof of identity such as a passport if you don't have an NI number.

A poll card can be sent to an address you name. A day centre, hostel or friend may be willing to receive post for you. If you don't have a postal address you can use, your local electoral office can tell you which polling station to attend to vote.

The About My Vote website has more on how to make a declaration of local connection.

Right to vote in a General Election

To vote in a General Election, you have to be 18 or over and registered to vote. Irish nationals can vote in a General Election, but other European nationals cannot.

The Electoral Commission has more on who is entitled to vote in a General Election.

Right to claim benefits

You are entitled to claim benefits if you are homeless.

Ask for a Simple Payment card if you don't have a bank account. Your benefits are paid straight to this card. You then take to a PayPoint outlet displaying the Simple Payment sign (for example in newsagents, convenience stores and supermarkets) to collect your money.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be able to get help from your council's local welfare scheme. Each council has its own scheme, so what is provided varies.

Find out more from from Gov.uk about claiming benefits.

Registering with a doctor if you are homeless

You are entitled to register with a doctor when you are homeless.

You can do this using a temporary address, such as a friend's place or a day centre. You can find a doctor in your area through NHS Choices or by calling the NHS helpline on 111.

There are also specialist medical centres for people who are homeless or sleeping rough.

Homelessness rights if you are under 18

If you are under the age of 18, you have different rights to benefits and different rights to accommodation if you become homeless.

Your rights also depend on whether you have spent time in care in the past.

Read Shelter's factsheet Know your rights: 16 or 17 and homeless? for information about the rights of homeless young people.

Housing and homeless rights if you have lived abroad

If you have lived abroad, your right to apply for council housing and homelessness rights are affected. 

Your rights depend on: 

You may need help from a specialist immigration adviser.

Find out more about who is eligible for council housing and who is eligible for homelessness help from the council

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