The council has to accept an application for help from any person who appears to be homeless or is likely to become homeless within 28 days.
Who can get help as homeless
You don't have to be sleeping on the street to get help from the council.
The council might have to help you if you:
- are likely to be evicted within the next 28 days
- can only stay where you are temporarily (for example, if you are staying with friends or family in an emergency)
- have to move because of violence or threats
- are living in overcrowded conditions
- have been locked out of your home
- live in a caravan or houseboat but have nowhere to put it
- are squatting or don't have permission to stay where you are
The council may also be able to help you if your home is in such a bad state of repair that it is damaging your health or if your household is forced to live apart because your accommodation isn't suitable for you all to live together.
Even if the council has refused to help you in the past, you can still apply as homeless. Your circumstances and needs may have changed since you last applied.
Who can apply as homeless?
The council looks at your situation. You should then receive written confirmation of the council's decision about your application.
The council cannot accept homelessness applications from people who are too young or whose mental capacity is too limited to be able to decide whether to accept an offer of accommodation or not.
Get help if you're not homeless yet but will be soon
Councils only have to accept applications from people who are actually homeless or who are threatened with homelessness within 28 days.
You should be considered to be threatened with homelessness if:
- your landlord has given you a valid notice to leave which runs out within 28 days
- your landlord or mortgage lender has obtained a court order to evict you which takes effect within 28 days
- you are due to be discharged from hospital or prison within 28 days and have nowhere to go
- you have been asked to leave by friends or family within 28 days
If it is not likely that you'll be homeless within 28 days, the council only has to give you advice and assistance about finding somewhere to live.
Applying as homeless if you are from abroad
Some groups of people, for example asylum seekers and many other people who have lived abroad, are not entitled to homelessness help from the council as their immigration status means they are not eligible for assistance.
The council should still accept your homelessness application and make enquiries into your circumstances.
Choosing who should apply as homeless
Only one homelessness application is needed for the whole of your household. Your household includes anyone who currently lives with you and anyone who could be expected to live with you if you had accommodation where you could all live together.
The council should look at the circumstances of everyone in your household when it makes its decision. For example, even if you are not eligible for assistance, there may be someone else in your household that the council could accept an application from if that person is both eligible for assistance and in priority need.
In situations like this, the council may have a duty to provide accommodation for your whole household.
What happens if you've applied as homeless before
The council might not accept another application if you have already applied as homeless and the council has made a decision on your application.
If you want to challenge the original decision, you should ask for a review within 21 days of receiving the decision in writing.
However, if there has been a change in your circumstances, the council should accept a new homelessness application and start its enquiries again. For example, if you have become pregnant or developed health problems, you may now be in priority need.
Court orders and homelessness
Most tenants and homeowners are entitled to wait until their landlord or lender obtains a possession order and bailiffs arrive to enforce the order before they legally have to leave their home.
Your council should not have a general policy that you must wait for the bailiffs before it accepts that you're homeless. They should instead look at whether it is reasonable for you to remain in your home until the bailiffs come.
If you are in this situation and the council has told you that you must wait for a court order or for the bailiffs to arrive, get advice before leaving your home. If you leave and the council decide that you could have stayed, you may be found intentionally homeless.
Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.
Karen's Story: 'My application went better because I was prepared'
Karen and her family had to leave their rented home when their landlord asked for it back. The family couldn't afford to meet the cost of renting and had to apply as homeless. Read her full story.