Homeless people's rights

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

Rights 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 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 Shelter’s advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

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.

Use our emergency housing rights checker to find out what help you might get.

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.

If you are homeless and the council is refusing to help you, call Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4345. 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 Help funding. 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.  

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 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 families with children but they are not legally obliged to provide accommodation where everyone can live together. Get advice if you are in this situation or have problems getting help from social services.

Rights to claim benefits

If you are homeless, you are still entitled to claim benefits. If you don't have a bank account, you can ask for a Simple Payment card. Your benefits will be paid straight to this card, which 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 apply for a grant or loan from your local council's social fund. Your chances of getting one will depend on your situation and the amount of money the council has in its 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.

Use Shelter’s advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser 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.

For more information, see the About my vote website.

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.

Read Shelter's fact sheet Know your rights - 16 or 17 and homeless? for more information on rights for homeless young people.

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 – more information is available from Housing rights for new arrivals.

Last updated: 1 January 2014