Most homeless people are not on the streets. Find out about common situations where you're classed as legally homeless.
You can ask the council for help if you're homeless or at risk of losing your home.
The council must assess your situation and decide if you're legally homeless now or likely to become homeless within 28 days.
You may qualify for emergency and longer-term housing if the council decides you are legally homeless.
The council doesn't have to offer you any housing if it decides you're not legally homeless.
Nowhere to stay now
You're legally homeless if you don't have a home and you're on the streets.
You could be legally homeless if you have a home but can't get into it.
Examples include if:
- you've been illegally evicted by your landlord
- an ex-partner has changed the locks
The council could decide you're not homeless if you have a home somewhere else (even if it's in a different country). The council must consider if it's reasonable to expect you to return to a home you left.
Evicted or facing eviction
You are legally homeless if you're evicted by bailiffs and have nowhere else to go.
If you're a tenant, the council could tell you to remain in the property until after any of these stages of eviction:
- bailiffs evict you
- the court makes a possession order
- your notice to leave expires
If you are a lodger, your landlord must give you reasonable notice to leave. You're legally homeless when the notice expires.
The council could decide that you're intentionally homeless if you give up a rented home where you could reasonably have stayed longer.
Repossessed or facing repossession
You're legally homeless if you have nowhere else to go when bailiffs come to repossess your home.
The council might accept you're legally homeless before the bailiffs come, either:
- after your mortgage lender gets an outright possession order from the court
- before the court hearing if repossession is unavoidable
You're not legally homeless if your mortgage lender takes you to court and the judge decides to allow you to stay (for example, you get a suspended possession order).
The council could decide that you're intentionally homeless if you give up a mortgaged home before you have to. For example, if you sell your home or hand the back keys to the lender.
Asked to leave by family or friends
You're legally homeless when your notice period ends if you are staying rent-free with family or friends and they give you reasonable notice to leave. You're threatened with homelessness if you have to leave within the next 28 days.
You're legally homeless if you stay for short periods with different friends or family because you have nowhere settled to stay (sometimes called sofa-surfing).
The council could decide you're not homeless if your family or friends agree to let you stay. The council may try to mediate to see if you can stay or return.
If you're homeless and 16 or 17 years old, the council usually refers you to social services for help.
At risk of violence or abuse
You are legally homeless if you're experiencing or threatened with domestic abuse by a partner, former partner or family member.
You're legally homeless if you experience violence or serious threats in your home from someone unrelated to you. Examples include:
- serious neighbour nuisance
- racial abuse
- gang-related violence
- witness intimidation
Violence or abuse could be directed at you personally or anyone in your household.
The council should make sensitive enquiries into your situation without putting you at further risk of harm. The council can't refuse to help just because you don't have evidence such as police or medical reports.
Staying in a hostel or refuge
The council should accept you are homeless if you're staying in a:
Can't afford to stay in your home
You're legally homeless if you can't pay for basics like food and heating after you've paid the rent or mortgage.
The council decides if your home is unaffordable by looking at your income, housing costs and other reasonable living expenses.
If you pay non-priority debts (such as credit cards or doorstep lenders) instead of your rent or mortgage, the council could decide you're intentionally homeless.
Living in overcrowded or poor conditions
The council might accept you're legally homeless if your home is severely overcrowded or there's a significant risk to health to your or your family because it is in such a bad condition.
Useful evidence could include:
- an environmental health report following a health and safety assessment of your home
- a letter from your GP or other health professional confirming how conditions in your home affect your health
The council is unlikely to decide you're legally homeless if conditions in your home can be improved.
The council is less likely to decide you're legally homeless if your area has a lot of overcrowded homes or housing in poor condition. The council compares your housing conditions to general housing conditions in the area.
No place to be together
You're legally homeless if you have somewhere to live yourself but it's not possible for your partner, dependent children or other household members to live there too.
Nowhere to put your caravan or boat
You're legally homeless if you live in a:
- caravan or mobile home but have nowhere you can legally park it
- houseboat but have nowhere to legally moor it
If the council says you're not legally homeless
The council should give you a written decision if it decides you're not legally homeless. You can ask the council to review the decision within 21 days of getting the letter.
Get help from a housing adviser
Call Shelter's Helpline on 0808 800 4444
Use our directory to find a housing adviser in your area.
Check if you can get legal aid
If you have been refused homelessness help, you may qualify for free or reduced cost legal help if you're on a low income.
Last updated - 23 Aug 2017
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