Homeless people's rights

Find out what your basic rights are if you are homeless or are likely to be homeless soon.

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 it for help.

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

These are if you're:

Each of these terms has a special legal meaning.

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 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 you if you have dependent children and the council's housing department has decided that you're not eligible for assistance or that you're intentionally homeless.

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.

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

If you leave your home when you don't have to (or don't return if you have the right to), it could affect any homelessness help you can get from the council.

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.

You should only remain in or return to a home if it's safe for you to do so.

Find out more about homelessness and domestic abuse.

Homelessness rights if you are under 18

If you are under the age of 18, your rights to benefits and accommodation if you become homeless are different to those of people aged 18 and over.

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.

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

Find out more about young people and homelessness.

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.

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.

Read more from Gov.uk about registering to vote.

You also qualify to register if you are a citizen of a country of the European Union or the Commonwealth and you either don't need permission to stay or have leave to enter or remain in the UK 

You must make a '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.

Find out more from About My Vote 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 it 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.

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