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Support with rough sleeping

This content applies to England

When the client's only immediate option is sleeping out.

Support for rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic

On 5 November 2020 the government introduced restrictions on leaving home that will last until 2 December 2020.[1] The restrictions do not apply to any person who is homeless.[2]

On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness wrote to local authorities asking them to urgently accommodate all rough sleepers and focus on the provision of adequate facilities to enable people to adhere to the guidance on hygiene or isolation, including for those who are at risk of sleeping rough. Local authorities may use third party accommodation providers to comply with this request.

In the letter dated 28 May 2020, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing requested that when arranging move-on accommodation for people sleeping rough, local authorities:

  • explore sustainable options, including through partnerships with housing associations and in the private rented sector
  • encourage people sleeping rough to stay with friends or family, ‘where appropriate and possible’
  • where no move-on possibilities exist, provide short-term accommodation while looking into long-term options.

On 5 November 2020, the government announced a new scheme to ensure vulnerable people, including those sleeping rough, are protected during the period of national restrictions and throughout the winter. The 'Protect Programme' is to run alongside the 'Everyone In' campaign. According to the press release, the top ten areas to receive the additional funding for the 'Protect Programme' are: London, City of Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Cornwall, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Manchester, Salford, Oxford, Leicester, and Birmingham.

Housing benefit claimants under 35 may qualify for an exemption from the shared accommodation rate if they have been accommodated in a hostel, a re-purposed hotel or a B&B under the 'Everyone In' initiative. For more information, see the page Covid-19: Benefits and income.

People who are rough sleeping or living in temporary accommodation are bound to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that measures taken locally and nationally in response to it is effectively communicated to people who use homelessness support services. The charity Groundswell has developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, which will be updated as the situation evolves in line with national guidance, feedback from partners and ongoing consultation with people who are experiencing homelessness. They include templates and flyers on coronavirus that can be handed out to people who are rough sleeping or living in hostels or other temporary accommodation (with the key points translated into various languages).

Ineligible EEA nationals

The following categories of EEA nationals exercising free movement rights in the UK are ineligible for benefits and homelessness assistance:[3]

  • jobseekers, within the meaning of EU law
  • those not economically active and exercising the three-month initial right to reside

On 30 June 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a ministerial letter which confirms that from 24 June 2020 EEA nationals in the two categories above who are either sleeping rough or have been temporarily placed in emergency accommodation for the purposes of self-isolation can access limited level of state support under temporary powers given to local authorities.[4]

The ministerial letter clarifies that:

  • non-statutory emergency accommodation and floating support will be available for up to 12 weeks
  • EEA nationals assisted under these measures will remain ineligible for benefits and statutory services, and will be supported with:
    • finding employment and regularising their stay in the country, or
    • returning to their home country and connecting with local support services, where appropriate
  • in order to qualify for support under the temporary measures, the individual must be willing to engage with:
    • navigators/support workers
    • employment support/training and job searching
  • support will be withdrawn from those EEA nationals who are assessed as not meeting the necessary criteria, unless the individual:
    • requires shielding or treatment from COVID-19
    • is seeking to reconnect to their home country.

These powers will continue until 31 December 2020. After this date new domestic immigration rules will be in place.

Note that an EEA national who was previously economically active and is looking for another job might have retained their worker/self-employed status and therefore remain eligible for public funds.  For more information about EEA nationals’ eligibility for benefits, social housing and homelessness assistance, see EEA and British nationals eligibility for homelessness assistance.

Guidance for hostels and night shelters

The guidance for hostels providing services to people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping contains information on safety measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections among residents and staff.

The guidance for night shelters contains information for night shelter managers, staff and residents.

For more information about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on housing, see the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and housing section on Shelter Legal.

Referring a rough sleeper

Street Link is a national service which can be used by members of the public if they see people sleeping rough. Referrals can be made using the hotline (0300 500 0914) or online at Street Link.

This service aims to connect rough sleepers with appropriate services, both statutory and voluntary. Local resources for rough sleepers vary greatly across the country. They can include day centres, contact and assessment teams, soup kitchens and soup runs. Details of such resources can often be obtained by contacting local authorities.

Street assessment teams

These are workers who visit the areas where people are sleeping at night. The referral may come via a member of the public using the Streetlink hotline or online form, or could be a self-referral. The street contact and assessment service is provided by various organisations, depending on the location. In London, for example, the charity St Mungos provides the No Second Night Out service (NSNO) which can refer new rough sleepers to one of three 'hubs' for an emergency assessment. Where a person has not slept rough before, the outreach worker may make a referral to a service which aims to secure immediate accommodation - often in the area where the person was previously living - so that s/he does not have to sleep out again. Homeless Link provides information on reconnecting rough sleepers to areas where they have support or other connections.

Street assessment teams also give rough sleepers information about available health care, nightshelters and hostels, and other resources for homeless people. Some hostels and nightshelters will only take referrals from a contact and assessment team worker. Some outreach teams will work with people on a long-term basis.

The government has produced a map of local outreach teams across England, with their contact details, who can be contacted if you see someone you suspect is sleeping rough.

Supported reconnection for EU nationals

An EU national rough sleeper may be able to get assistance to reconnect with her/his home country through the Routes Home project. Routes Home makes travel arrangements for especially vulnerable returners, as well as ensuring that support will be in place when they arrive.

Day centres

Day centres provide a warm, safe space for homeless people to come off the streets. Depending on the facilities available, they may be able talk to workers (some of whom may be specialists such as drug or alcohol workers), have a meal and a shower, do some laundry, to watch TV, or see a doctor or dentist.

In London, details of day centres are available on the websites of Homeless London, St Mungo's and Crisis.

Outside London, details of day centres are available on the websites of Homeless UK and St Mungo's.

Soup runs and soup kitchens

Soup runs are organised to provide food and drink on a nightly basis in various locations. Usually they are scheduled to arrive at particular locations at certain times, although times and locations often change.

Soup kitchens are often operated from church halls with scheduled opening hours. They distribute food and drinks.

Cold weather provision

Every local authority should have a severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) to assist rough sleepers. Homeless Link has published a good practice guide for local authorities and voluntary agencies to help them provide appropriate responses to homeless people during periods of cold and severe weather. The guide is commissioned by the MHCLG but it is not statutory guidance.

Historically, the trigger for SWEP is a weather forecast predicting three or more consecutive nights of a minimum temperature of zero degrees or lower, however, local authorities are encouraged to be flexible about when assistance for rough sleepers is necessary.

For more information about SWEP and emergency options for people sleeping rough, see the Other emergency options page.

Other practical advice

If the client has no other option but to sleep rough, the adviser could talk to her/him about the following points:

  • there are laws which allow the police to stop, search and arrest a person for sleeping on the street
  • try to find a sheltered place. To protect against the cold, wear layers of thin clothing, use a sleeping bag and blankets, and avoid sleeping directly on the ground by, for example, sleeping on layers of card
  • it is usually safer to sleep where there are other people around
  • there may be local places that are sympathetic to people staying there for shelter. Advisers could find out about these by talking to organisations work with street homeless people.

If the client is likely to be sleeping out for only one night, then they may prefer to find a place of safety to sit, rather than bedding down outside. For example, in larger cities, there may be all-night cafes where they can sit.

Dogs and pets

Most accommodation providers in the UK operate a 'no dogs or pets' policy, so homeless dog or pet owners cannot access shelter and support if they have a dog/pet and want to keep it with them. However, even the court of protection has recognised the importance of pets in the life of a vulnerable people.[5]

The Dogs Trust's Hope Project aims to help dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis and works with hostels and housing providers to encourage them to accept clients with dogs. The Project has developed an online directory of dog-friendly hostels searchable by region, town or postcode.

The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project gives details of organisations that provide temporary foster care for animals whose owners are fleeing domestic abuse or are unable to look after their pets while in hospital, care home or being made homeless.

[1] regs 1 and 5 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/1200.

[2] reg 5(3) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/1200.

[3] Derogation under Art 24(2) EU Directive 2004/38/EC.

[4] COVID-19 Response: Funding support for those in emergency accommodation and EEA Rough Sleepers, MHCLG 24 June 2020. The letter confirms that the government has temporarily suspended the derogation under Article 24(2) of the EU Directive 2004/38/EC.

[5] Mrs P v Rochdale BC and another [2016] EWCOP B1.

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