Emergency housing from the council

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 for emergency housing

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, are homeless because of domestic abuse, or have another type of 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 

If you contact the council's homeless team during normal working hours, they should ask some initial questions to check if you need emergency housing that day.

If they don't ask you about this, tell them that you need emergency housing and why your situation is urgent. Make it clear if you're in priority need.

If you contact the council out of normal working hours you might speak to a call centre or duty social worker instead.

Standard and quality of emergency housing

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

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 is at higher risk of infection or illness due to coronavirus.

Emergency housing is usually 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.

If you're homeless because of domestic abuse

A change in law means that the council must now offer emergency housing if they think you may be homeless due to to domestic abuse even if you don't have children with you.

The council must not ask you to prove there has been domestic abuse before they will offer emergency housing. They will ask further questions about your situation at a later stage.

Any emergency housing offered should be suitable. You might be offered a refuge space as a safe option.

Find out more about what counts as domestic abuse and the help you can get.

Staying with friends or family 

The council will usually 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 must still look into your situation and may have to provide longer term housing when they make a decision on your homeless application.

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.

Don't refuse emergency housing if you have nowhere else to stay 

The council might not offer anything else at this stage. You may have to accept lower standards than in longer term housing.

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.

Emergency housing has to be very unsuitable to be challenged in court. 

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

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

If you're escaping domestic abuse, the council can offer you emergency housing in a different council area if this will help. But you should not be forced to live outside your council area if you need or prefer to be near support networks.

If you're told to contact a different council for homeless help

You might be referred to a different council if you don't have a local connection in the area that you ask for help.

If you qualify, the first council you approach must still provide emergency housing while they wait for the other council to agree to help you. 

You can't be referred back to or housed in an area where you're at risk of domestic abuse.

How long you can stay 

You can usually stay in emergency housing until the council decide if they have to provide longer term housing under the main housing duty.

It usually takes 2 to 3 months before the council make a decision.

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. 

If you're asked to leave emergency housing, the council may not have to offer anything else until they have reached a a decision on your homeless application. 

You may still qualify for longer term housing once the council has made a decision. 

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.

What happens next

While you're in emergency housing the council will look into your situation to see how they must help over the next few months.

As soon as they have confirmed that you are homeless and meet the immigration conditions they should carry out an assessment and draw up a personal housing plan.

You get help to find somewhere to live under a personal housing plan. The council usually helps with this for 8 weeks.

If you are still homeless after 8 weeks, the council will decide if you qualify for the main housing duty and write to you with their decision.

If you qualify for the main housing duty

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. 


Last updated: 5 July 2021

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