Briefing: Defining Homelessness

By: Kate Webb  Published: November 2012


There is no commonsense definition of homelessness and determining whether a household is homeless is not always straightforward. It is however an important question to resolve as local authorities have a legal duty to help certain households who are homeless.

Summary

Someone is homeless if:

  • They have no accommodation that they are entitled to occupy.
  • Or, they have accommodation they are entitled to occupy it but it is so bad that they cannot reasonably be expected to occupy it.

Local authorities must treat someone as homeless if they are threatened with homelessness within 28 days, for example because a landlord has secured a bailiffs’ warrant to evict them from a rented property.

This means a person does not have to be roofless to be homeless. They may be staying informally with friends or family (“sofa surfing”), placed in a poor quality Bed and Breakfast (B&B) placement, or living in conditions so appalling or unsafe that they cannot reasonably be described as a home. This is often referred to as a “broad definition” of homelessness.

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