This page is targeted at housing professionals. Our main site is at www.shelter.org.uk

Right to help from the local authority

This content applies to England

Rights to assistance from the local authority that a client may have.

If the adviser finds that the client does not have the right, or is unable, to stay in her/his present accommodation, then the adviser's next step is to check whether the client has a right to be housed immediately by a local authority.

Help from the housing department

Local authorities have a duty to find accommodation for people in priority need who are homeless or threatened with homelessness through no fault of their own and are eligible for assistance. They also have duties to give advice to people in the district who may be at risk of homelessness. For more detailed information see the Homelessness section.

Find details of local authorities on Gov.uk

Making a homelessness application

A homelessness application can be made to any authority. If it is outside normal working hours the council should have an emergency telephone service to a duty officer, often a social worker.[1] The emergency telephone number should be publicised in the local authority's area. The police will also usually have the contact number.

Making accommodation available pending inquiries

If a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have a priority need, it must make accommodation available while it makes inquiries and decides what duty (if any) is owed.[2] For more information see Interim duty to accommodate. Local authorities also have a discretionary power to make accommodation available to people who are not in priority need.[3]

Local authority advice duties

Every local authority has a general duty to provide advice and information about avoiding homelessness to anyone in its district.[4] In addition, although most single people and couples without dependent children are not considered to be in priority need, if they are homeless or threatened with homelessness the local authority has a duty to give them advice and assistance in any attempts they make to find accommodation.[5] See Information and advice on homelessness.

Help from the social services department

Clients who are not entitled to assistance under the homelessness legislation may still be able to get help from the social services department if there are young or vulnerable people in the household. Help may be provided under the Children Act 1989, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Care Act 2014. Examples where this may be necessary include:

  • if s/he has been found to be intentionally homeless
  • if s/he is not eligible for assistance.

Before approaching social services, it is important for advisers to check that the client's homelessness application has been considered properly. For example, if a client has been found to be intentionally homeless, then the authority should have informed the client in writing of its decision and the reasons for it. The reasons given should have been investigated. For example, a client who has been deemed intentionally homeless may have since had a change of circumstances, leading to a fresh incidence of homelessness, which may therefore entitle them to reapply as homeless, or the client may have been found intentionally homeless even though s/he failed to pay the rent through no fault of her/his own. A client who has been given a decision that they are intentionally homeless may have the right to request a review or statutory appeal. For more information see the sections Intentional homelessness and Challenging homelessness decisions.

Young people

Most young people are entitled to apply as homeless to the local authority. However some are also entitled to assistance from social services, and are likely to be referred. This includes 'children in need', and most 16- and 17-year-old care leavers who have spent 13 weeks or more in care since the age of 14, and who have been in care at some time while 16 or 17.[6] Social services has a duty to meet the housing costs of these groups.[7] They can also provide assistance to some older care leavers up to the age of 24.

For more information see the section Housing for young people and care leavers.

Older and vulnerable people

People who are vulnerable due to age, illness or disability who are not entitled to help from the housing department may be entitled to assistance under community care legislation.[8] However, the courts have held that this provision should be used as a last resort, and can only be used where there is a need for care that is not being met in any other way.

For more information see the section on People in need of care and support.

People from abroad

Homeless people from abroad (other than asylum seekers - see below) are generally excluded from the benefits system and the homelessness and allocations legislation because of their immigration status. They are therefore not eligible for help from the local authority housing department. This will be the case even if they have dependent children. However, in some cases the social services department will still have a duty to accommodate them under community care legislation and, if they have a child, under the Children Act 1989.

The form of help provided by social services will depend on the person's circumstances and could include accommodation, vouchers, assistance in kind or, in exceptional cases, cash. For more information on assistance for people from abroad who are not eligible for homelessness assistance, see the section Ineligible migrants.

Asylum seekers

Asylum seekers are not entitled to any help from the local authority housing department, as most will be entitled to assistance from UKVI (formerly UKBA). However, UKVI support can be denied to those who do not claim asylum 'as soon as is reasonably practicable' after arriving in this country,[9] unless they fit into certain groups of people, such as those with dependent children.

Support under the Care Act 2014 is available to those where her/his need for care and attention has not arisen solely as a result of destitution and/or its effects. For more information see the page Help for ineligible adult migrants.

Asylum seekers without any form of support could be directed to local charities, which may be able to provide practical assistance, and should be advised to consult a solicitor as they may have grounds to challenge the decision in judicial review proceedings on the basis that their human rights have been breached. For more information see the section on Asylum seekers.

[1] para 18.2 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[2] s.188(1) Housing Act 1996

[3] s.192(3) Housing Act 1996.

[4] s.179 Housing Act 1996.

[5] ss.190(3) and 192 Housing Act 1996, as amended by Homelessness Act 2002.

[6] s.23A Children Act 1989, as amended by s.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

[7] ss.23B and C Children Act 1989, as amended by s.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

[8] Care Act 2014.

[9] s.55(1) Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

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