Emergency housing from the council

Find out if you qualify for emergency housing when you're homeless.

Who the council must help

The council must decide if you qualify for emergency housing if you ask for help when homeless.

To qualify for emergency housing, the council must have reason to believe you may:

Not everyone is entitled to emergency housing when homeless.

When the council provides emergency housing

The council only provide emergency housing if you're homeless now or when you become homeless.

You can ask the council for help before you become homeless.

If you apply early, it gives the council more time to assess your situation and provide you with help to keep your home or find another. They can arrange emergency housing if you become homeless.

What you could be offered

The council could offer a:

The council should only use a B&B as a last resort. They should move you to more suitable housing as soon as they can.

It's unlawful for a council to keep you in a B&B for more than 6 weeks if you're pregnant or have children living with you.

Where the accommodation might be

The council must try to find accommodation within their area. You might be placed outside the area if there's a shortage of housing locally.

The council must consider your personal circumstances including:

  • travel time to work
  • disruption to children's education
  • caring responsibilities and support networks in the area

How long you can stay

The council provide emergency housing while they help you find somewhere else to live and look into your situation further.

You can usually stay until the council decide if you're entitled to longer-term housing. They must give you the decision in writing. This could take up to 3 months.

If you qualify for longer-term housing

The council could let you stay where you are or move you into different temporary housing until you get an offer of longer-term housing.

The council you apply to could refer you to another council for help with longer-term housing if you:

  • don't have a local connection in the area you apply
  • have a connection to another council area
  • are not at risk of domestic abuse or violence there

You can stay in your temporary housing until the council you are referred to finds you somewhere to live.

If you don't qualify for longer-term housing

If there are children in your family, the council should usually give you at least 28 days' notice to leave. They may refer you to social services for further help.

If you are staying in a hostel for single people, the council should usually give you at least 7 days' notice to leave.

Paying for emergency housing

You have to pay rent in emergency housing but it must be affordable for you.

For help with the rent if you have a low income, you can usually claim either:

These benefits don't cover some charges such as meals or cleaning services.

Storage for furniture and belongings

The council must arrange storage for your furniture and personal belongings if you can't arrange this yourself. They usually charge for this service.

Unsuitable emergency housing

Emergency housing must be suitable for you and your family. You may have to accept lower standards compared with longer-term housing.

B&B accommodation is unsuitable for pregnant women and families if you have to stay there for longer than 6 weeks.

You can ask the council for a move if you think the emergency housing is unsuitable. A housing adviser can help you negotiate. The council might offer an alternative.

The council doesn't have to provide you with alternative emergency accommodation if you leave. They must still decide if you are entitled to longer term housing.

Challenging unsuitable emergency housing

Court action is the only way to challenge the suitability of emergency housing if the council won't agree to a move. You'll need the help of a solicitor. 

Emergency housing has to be very unsuitable for a legal challenge to succeed.

Alternatives to emergency housing

The council could treat you as 'homeless at home' if you can stay with friends or family while they assess your situation.

The council might decide you're not legally homeless if they think you can continue to live with friends or family.

If the council decides you are entitled to longer-term housing, they must arrange suitable housing for you when you get your decision letter.

If the council refuse emergency housing

Get help from a housing adviser if the council refuse to accept your homelessness application or to help with emergency housing.

The council can't refuse to provide emergency housing because they think:

  • you don't have a local connection
  • it's your fault that you're homeless

A housing adviser can negotiate with the council. You'll need the help of a solicitor to take court action if the council still refuse to provide emergency housing.

Contact a Shelter adviser online or by phone

You may qualify for free legal help if you're on a low income:

Contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345


Last updated - 14 May 2018

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help

Get help

Tell us what you think of this page

Email a link to this article

Thank you - your message has been sent.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.

Please contact #########

Was this advice helpful?

Thank you - your feedback has been submitted to the team.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.