Emergency housing from the council

When the council must help you with emergency housing if you're homeless and don't have anywhere to stay.

When the council must help

A local council must arrange emergency housing if it thinks you might:

  • be homeless
  • have a priority need for housing
  • meet immigration and residence conditions

The council should not refuse emergency housing because it thinks: 

  • you don't have any links with its area
  • it's your fault that you're homeless

The council provides emergency housing while it looks into your situation to decide if you are entitled to longer-term housing.

You'll need to make a homelessness application first.

What you could be offered

The council could offer a:

The council should only use a B&B as a last resort and should move you to more suitable housing as soon as it can.

It's unlawful for a council to keep you in a B&B for more than 6 weeks if you're pregnant or have children living with you.

Where the accommodation will be

The council must try and find you accommodation within its area. You might be placed outside the area if there's a shortage of housing locally.

The council must consider your personal circumstances including:

  • travel time to work
  • disruption to children's education
  • caring responsibilities and support networks in the area

How long you can stay

You can usually stay in emergency housing until you get a written decision about your homelessness application. This could take a few weeks.

If you don't qualify for longer-term housing

The council will ask you to leave emergency housing if it decides that you don't qualify for longer-term housing.

You should usually get at least 28 days' notice to leave if there are children in your family. You may be referred to social services for further help.

You should usually get at least 7 days' notice to leave a hostel for single people.

If you qualify for longer-term housing

The council could move you into alternative accommodation until you get an offer of longer-term housing.

If you don't have a local connection with the council you applied to, it can refer you to a different council for longer-term housing. You can only be referred to a council where you have a local connection.

Your housing will continue until the next council finds you somewhere to live.

Paying for emergency housing

You have to pay rent in emergency accommodation but it must be affordable for you.

If you have a low income, you can usually claim housing benefit or universal credit housing costs to help with the rent.

These benefits don't cover some charges such as meals or cleaning services.

Storage for furniture and belongings

The council must arrange storage for your furniture and personal belongings if you can't make your own arrangements. You usually get charged for this.

If emergency housing is unsuitable

Emergency accommodation must be suitable for you and your family. You may have to accept lower standards compared with longer-term housing.

Bed and breakfast accommodation is unsuitable for families if you have to stay there longer than 6 weeks.

If you leave emergency accommodation, the council:

  • won't have to provide you with alternative emergency housing
  • will still have to make a decision about whether you are entitled to longer term housing

You can ask the council for a move if you think the emergency accommodation is unsuitable. You might be offered an alternative. A housing adviser can help you to negotiate with the council.

If the council won't agree to a move, you will need to take court action with the help of a solicitor.

Emergency housing would have to be very unsuitable for a legal challenge to be successful.

Alternatives to emergency accommodation

The council could treat you as 'homeless at home' if you can stay with friends or family while the council looks into your application. You'll need to agree this option with the council.

The council might decide you're not legally homeless if it thinks you can live with friends or family in the longer-term.

If the council decides you are entitled to longer-term housing, it must arrange suitable housing for you when you get your decision letter.

If the council refuses emergency housing

Get help from a housing adviser if the council refuses to accept your homelessness application or to help with emergency housing.

A housing adviser can negotiate with the council. If the council does not change its mind, you will need the help of a solicitor to take court action.

Get help from a housing adviser

Contact a Shelter adviser online or by phone

Check if you qualify for legal aid

You may qualify for free or reduced cost legal help if you're on a low income and have been refused homelessness help.

Check if you qualify for legal aid

Contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345


Last updated - 01 Sep 2017

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