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Overview of legal definition

This content applies to England

An overview of the legal definition of homelessness and local authority duties .

Who is statutorily homeless?

There are several ways in which a person can be legally defined as homeless:[1]

  • no accommodation available in the UK or abroad
  • no legal right to occupy the accommodation
  • split households and availability of accommodation for whole household
  • unreasonable to continue to occupy accommodation
  • violence from any person
  • applicant unable to secure entry
  • applicant lives in a moveable structure but has no place to put this.

The pages in this section explain each of these in detail.

If the applicant falls within any of the above groups the local authority will have some form of duty towards her/him. This ranges from advice and assistance, or providing interim accommodation, to the relief duty or the main housing duty of securing accommodation for a continuing period. The extent of the duty will depend on whether or not s/he is, or may be, eligible for assistance, in priority need, intentionally homeless, or has a local connection. The other homelessness sections explain these and the various local authority duties that arise in detail.

If the applicant is likely to become homeless within 56 days, or has been served with a valid section 21 notice that is due to expire within 56 days, s/he is legally defined as threatened with homelessness and the local authority will have some form of duty towards her/him.

Persons subject to immigration control

Where the applicant is a person from abroad subject to immigration control who is eligible for assistance,[2] the local authority can, in determining whether s/he is homeless (eg when considering overcrowding) or threatened with homelessness, disregard any person from abroad who is ineligible for assistance.[3] For more information on persons who are subject to immigration control and eligible for assistance see Persons eligible for assistance: non EEA/EU.

Restricted cases

Prior to 2 March 2009, the above provision applied to all applicants who were persons from abroad who were ineligible for assistance. This provision was held to be incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[4] The legislation has been amended so that the provision no longer applies to applicants who are not subject to immigration control. Therefore, a British citizen, a Commonwealth citizen with a right of abode in the UK, or an EU national with a right to reside in the UK can be statutorily homeless or threatened with homelessness having regard to an ineligible household member.[5]

If the only reason the applicant is homeless is in relation to an ineligible person (eg overcrowding), the situation is known as a 'restricted case' and the ineligible individual as a 'restricted person'. There are specific additional rules regarding discharge of the homeless duty in these circumstances. See Ending the main duty for further information.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references on this page are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

[1] ss.175-177 Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018; chapter 6 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[2] reg 5 Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Eligibility)(England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/1294.

[3] s.185(4) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.314 and Sch.15 Housing and Regeneration Act 2008; Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Commencement No. 1 and Saving Provisions) Order 2009 SI 2009/415 (C.28).

[4] R v Westminster CC, ex p Morris; R v Lambeth LBC ex p Badu [2005] EWCA Civ 1184.

[5] s.185(4) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.314 and Sch.15 Housing and Regeneration Act 2008; Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Commencement No. 1 and Saving Provisions) Order 2009 SI 2009/415 (C.28).

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