When you are homeless, accommodation offered by the council must be suitable. If it's not, you can ask the council to review its decision.
Offers of suitable accommodation
The council may offer you accommodation when you apply to the council for help as a homeless person. Any accommodation you're offered must be suitable.
The council offers you either emergency accommodation while it looks into your situation or temporary accommodation while waiting for settled accommodation.
It could also make you an offer of settled or permanent housing.
Find out more about applying as homeless.
Don't turn down an offer without advice. Your council may not give you any more help.
Who accommodation has to be suitable for
The council has to take into account the needs of all the people it is housing as homeless.
This includes you, family members and anyone else you usually live with who counts as part of your household.
What counts as suitable accommodation
The council has to consider the size of the accommodation it offers you, how much it would cost you to live it in, the location and other factors.
Size and cost of accommodation
The council should look at whether you can afford to live in the home it offers you. For example, can you afford the rent and other payments (such as council tax and child maintenance payments) and reasonable living expenses?
It should also look at:
- if the accommodation is the right size
- the physical condition of the accommodation
- health – for example difficulty getting up stairs
Where the accommodation is located
You might not be offered housing in the council area where you made your homeless application.
Housing shortages mean that the council may not be able to house you in the same area.
When deciding if the location is suitable, the council has to take into account:
- where the accommodation is – it may be outside the council's area
- what types of accommodation are available in the area – for example, if you need a large home but there's a local shortage of these
- if it is close to local services, amenities and transport – this could include schools, supermarkets and bus services
- social factors – if you need to be close to family, support services or special schools
It also has to take into account how you may be affected:
- by any disruption that may be caused to work, caring responsibilities or education
- because of the distance to health or medical care or other support that you (or your family) currently uses, or are essential to their well-being – and whether these are accessible
- if there is a risk of racial harassment or domestic abuse
Considering all the factors
The council should look at all of these factors and take an overall view of your situation. It should consider the effect that moving to the accommodation would have on the health and welfare of your whole household.
Unsuitable emergency accommodation
If you're in emergency accommodation while the council is looking into your situation, the place you're staying in has to be suitable for you and your household.
This accommodation would have to be very unsuitable before you could successfully challenge the council about it.
It is difficult to challenge the council while it's still making enquiries into your homelessness application. This can only be done by going to court. You will need help from a housing adviser to do this.
Get advice if the council does not help you protect your property.
Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.
Unsuitable temporary accommodation
After the council has finished its enquiries into your homelessness application, it may decide that you are entitled to longer-term temporary accommodation. This could be a bedsit, a flat, a house, a place in a hostel, or a bed and breakfast (B&B).
When deciding if it's suitable, the council can take into account the temporary nature of the accommodation offered and the type of housing available in the area. In areas where there is a lot of demand for housing, it can be difficult to persuade the council that the accommodation is unsuitable.
Where there's an extreme shortage of housing, the council may decide that a room in a B&B is suitable, even if it's a long way away from your former home.
If you're pregnant or have dependent children, a B&B would only be suitable in an emergency, and even then, only for up to six weeks.
When to accept an unsuitable offer
Refusing temporary accommodation that the council thinks is suitable for you could mean that the council doesn't have to give you any more help.
It might be better to accept an unsuitable offer because you:
- can ask the council to review its decision about whether the accommodation is suitable after you move in
- will have somewhere to stay while the council reviews its decision
- will have somewhere to stay if your review is unsuccessful
It can be difficult to get the council to offer alternative temporary accommodation.
Get advice about unsuitable offers. An adviser can look into whether you have a chance of getting the council to offer you something else.
Use Shelter's directory to find a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or other welfare advice centre in your area.
Unsuitable settled or permanent accommodation
A council's legal duty to help you as a homeless person comes to an end when it offers you suitable settled housing.
If a council accepts that it has a duty to offer you settled accommodation, you could be offered a:
- private rented tenancy – this must be for at least one year
- council tenancy
- housing association tenancy
Any accommodation the council offers must be suitable for you and the people you live with.
If you refuse an offer of housing that's suitable for your needs, the council doesn't have to help you find other accommodation or continue to provide temporary accommodation.
If you refuse an offer of settled housing because you feel it's unsuitable, and the council says it won't help you anymore, you can ask for a review.
Most councils ask you to accept the offer while they consider your review. Get specialist advice straight away if this happens. Don't refuse an offer before getting advice, as the council may not have to give you any more help.
Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face advice centre in your local area.
If the review is successful, the council still has to help you with housing. But if the review is unsuccessful, it won't have to help you anymore.
Unsuitable private rented sector offers
Councils can offer you a private rented tenancy as settled accommodation, as long as it's for at least one year and is suitable for you and and the people you live with.
When offering private rented accommodation, the suitability criteria listed above still apply.
But the accommodation won't be suitable if the council believes any of the following apply:
- It isn't in reasonable physical condition.
- Any electrical equipment supplied with the accommodation doesn't meet the relevant electrical safety regulations.
- The landlord hasn't taken reasonable fire safety precautions – either with the accommodation itself, or any furnishings that come with it.
- The landlord hasn't taken reasonable precautions to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- The accommodation is a house in multiple occupation, but hasn't been licensed for use as one.
- The accommodation is (or forms part of) a property that doesn't have a valid energy performance certificate.
- There is no gas safety record for the accommodation (or the property it is part of).
- The landlord hasn't provided a written tenancy agreement for the purpose of making an offer to you – the council needs to be satisfied that the agreement is adequate.
For accommodation to be suitable, the council also has to decide whether the landlord providing it is a 'fit and proper person'. The council needs to consider if the landlord has:
- committed certain offences
- discriminated against anyone
- breached housing laws in the past
The council should have inspected the accommodation to make sure that it is suitable for you before making the tenancy offer.
Get advice if you are offered settled accommodation that the council says is suitable but you don't agree. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre in your area.
Asking for a review of a council's decision
You can ask the council to review its decision about whether the accommodation they're offering is suitable for you, even if you decide to accept it
In most cases this is safer than refusing to accept the offer. This is because:
- if you request a review and it is successful, the council will have to provide you with another offer of suitable accommodation, even if you accepted the original offer
- if your review fails, you probably won't be offered any alternative accommodation but can stay where you are. If you refused the original offer, the council may not have to give you any further help at all
Get advice from a housing adviser if you want to ask for a review about the suitability of your accommodation.
Alternatively, contact Civil Legal Advice. 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.
Shelter is one of the five providers of telephone advice provided by Civil Legal Advice.
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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 were placed into temporary accommodation. Read her full story.