Emergency housing from the council

Find out how to apply for emergency housing from the council, who qualifies and what to expect.

What is emergency housing?

Local councils must provide emergency housing for most homeless families and some people without children who become homeless.

It's a short term option while the council:

  • look into your housing situation

  • decide how they must help you in the longer term

Who qualifies

Anyone can ask for homeless help but not everyone qualifies for emergency housing.

The council must provide emergency housing if they think all of the following might apply:

  1. You have nowhere safe to stay

  2. You have children, are pregnant, or have another priority need

  3. You meet the immigration conditions

Contact a Shelter adviser if the council have already refused to provide emergency housing and you think you should qualify.

How to get emergency housing

Contact the council to make a homeless application. 

Every council should have a daytime number and an emergency out of hours number.

How to contact your council's homeless team

What is your location?

Ask for help before you need emergency housing if you can. The council might be able to help you stay in your current home or find somewhere else to live so you don't become homeless.

What to expect 

Emergency housing must be suitable for you and anyone who lives with you.

Depending on your household situation it could be:

  • self contained accommodation

  • a hotel, B&B, hostel or refuge with some shared or communal areas

Tell the council if anyone in your household needs to self isolate or shield due to coronavirus, or if anyone is at higher risk of infection.

The standard and quality of emergency accommodation varies and can be quite basic.

It will usually be furnished. The council must arrange storage for your personal belongings if you can't do this yourself. They usually charge for this.  

B&Bs should only be used as a last resort. 

If you're pregnant or have children with you

You shouldn't have to stay in a privately owned B&B where you have to share a bathroom, toilet or kitchen with another household unless there's nothing else available.

If you're in a B&B, the council must move you somewhere more suitable within 6 weeks.

Where emergency housing might be

The council must try to find emergency accommodation within the area if possible.

You might be offered something in a different council area if there's a lack of emergency options locally.

The council must consider:

  • travel time to work

  • disruption to children's education

  • caring responsibilities and local support networks

Paying for emergency housing

You won't have to pay for emergency housing up front.

You may have to claim housing benefit or the universal credit housing element to help with rent in emergency housing.

Ask the council which benefit you should claim and if there are any other charges, such as for meals.

What happens if you refuse an offer 

Don't refuse emergency housing if you've got nowhere else to stay. You may not get another offer.

Raise any concerns about the safety or quality of the accommodation with the council. They should address any safety risks and may offer something more suitable.

You may have to accept lower standards than in longer term housing. Emergency accommodation has to be very unsuitable for a legal challenge to succeed. 

If you don't stay in the accommodation 

The council or accommodation provider might cancel the booking and you might not get another offer of emergency housing. 

Tell the council or accommodation provider if you need to be away overnight.

How long you can stay 

You can usually stay in emergency housing until the council decide if you qualify for longer term housing.

It may take the council up to 3 months to decide but it could be much quicker.

You might have to move during this time. For example, if you're offered a B&B in an emergency but self contained accommodation becomes available. 

You could be asked to leave at short notice if you break any rules in place at the accommodation. For example, regarding visitors, smoking or shared areas. 

The council will still have to look into your situation but they might not provide further emergency housing before they come to a decision.  

Emergency housing during coronavirus

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the government asked councils to provide emergency housing for anyone on the streets without a place to stay.

If an outreach team or charity helped you into emergency housing, speak to them about what happens next. Some people will get support to move in to longer term housing.

The council's decision letter

The council must write to you once they make a decision on your homeless application.

If you qualify for longer term housing

The council must find you somewhere suitable to live. 

You will usually get a tenancy with a council, housing association or private landlord. 

There are rules about what you can be offered. You may have to spend more time in temporary housing before you get a final offer of longer term housing

If the council decide you don't qualify

The letter must explain why. For example, it may say that you're: 

If you're in priority need but the council decide you're intentionally homeless they must continue to provide emergency housing for a reasonable period, usually a few weeks.

The council must give reasons for their decision. You should ask for a review within 21 days if you think it's wrong. You can usually get free legal help with this. 

Ask the council to continue to provide emergency housing while they do the review. 

Homeless help from a different council 

The council can sometimes refer you to a different council if you don't have a local connection in the area you apply.  

The council can do this when you first ask for help if you're homeless and meet the immigration conditions. If they think you might be in priority need, they must provide emergency housing while they wait for the other council to respond. 

Staying with friends or family 

The council will ask if you can stay with friends or family as a temporary option.

If it's possible and you prefer this to emergency housing, the council should still look into your situation and decide how they have to help in the longer term. 

If you continue to stay with friends or family as an alternative to emergency housing, it's sometimes called being 'homeless at home'. 

The council might decide they don’t have to rehouse you if it’s reasonable for you to stay with friends or family long term.

If you can't stay with friends or family anymore

The council must provide emergency housing if you qualify for it. 

If they've already decided you qualify for longer term housing, the council must find you somewhere suitable to live.

Last updated: 1 March 2021

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