Emergency housing from the council

Find out if you qualify for emergency housing when you tell the council you're homeless and what to expect when it's offered.

What is emergency housing?

Emergency housing is short term accommodation provided by a council while they assess your homelessness application.

Emergency housing could be a:

  • bed and breakfast (B&B)
  • homeless hostel
  • self-contained rented flat or house

Who qualifies?

You qualify for emergency housing if you ask the council for help and they think you may be:

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

You can ask the council for help before you become homeless.

If you apply early, the council has more time to assess your situation and help you keep your home or find another.

Where the emergency housing might be

The council must try to find you emergency accommodation in your area.

Before placing you in a different borough, the council must consider:

  • your travel time to work
  • disruption to your children's education
  • your caring responsibilities and local support networks

You could be placed outside of your area if there's a shortage of local housing.

How long you can expect to stay

You can usually stay in emergency housing until the council decides if you're entitled to longer term housing.

The council must write to tell you if you're entitled to longer term housing. It may take the council up to 3 months to decide.

You may have to spend time in temporary housing until longer term housing is available.

Time limits for B&Bs

It’s unlawful for a council to keep you in a B&B for more than 6 weeks if you:

  • are pregnant
  • have children with you

Referral to another council 

If you don't have a local connection with the council you apply to, they could refer you to a different council for help before or after they provide you with emergency housing. 

The other council normally has to provide you with emergency housing while they assess your situation. 

Notice to leave emergency accommodation

The council will tell you when you must leave if they decide you don't qualify for longer term housing.

If you are in a hostel for single people, the council should usually give you at least 7 days' notice to leave.

If there are children in your family, the council should usually give you at least 28 days' notice to leave.

The council normally has to continue to help you find somewhere else to live for a limited period. They may also refer you to social services for further help.

Staying with friends or family instead

Staying with family or friends temporarily can be an alternative to staying in emergency accommodation.

The council will treat you as 'homeless at home' in this situation.

The council must still assess your application.

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

The council must also arrange emergency housing if your arrangements to stay with friends or family break down before you get their decision letter.

The council might decide you're not legally homeless if they think you can live long term with friends or family.

Unsuitable emergency housing

Unsuitable emergency housing can include:

  • inaccessible housing if you are disabled
  • B&B if you're pregnant or have children and have to stay in B&B for longer than 6 weeks
  • B&B if you are a care leaver or aged 16 to 17 

Ask the council for a move if you think the emergency housing is unsuitable. They might offer an alternative.

How to challenge an unsuitable offer

If the council won't agree to a move, court action is the only way to challenge an emergency housing offer.

You'll need legal aid services or a solicitor

Emergency housing must be very unsuitable for a legal challenge to succeed. You may have to accept lower standards compared with longer-term housing.

If you challenge the offer of emergency housing, the council:

  • must still decide if you are entitled to longer term housing
  • may also have to continue to help you find somewhere else to live

Risks of refusing an offer

It’s not usually a good idea to refuse an offer of emergency housing because you may not get another one.

If you leave emergency housing, the council:

  • doesn't have to provide you with alternative emergency accommodation
  • must still decide if you are entitled to longer term housing

Get advice from a Shelter adviser before you turn down an emergency housing offer.

Rent and charges for emergency housing

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

For help with the rent if you have a low income, you can usually claim either:

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 arrange this yourself. They usually charge for this service.

Still need help?

Get help from a housing adviser if the council:

  • won't accept your homelessness application
  • refuses you emergency housing
  • provides unsuitable emergency accommodation

Contact a Shelter adviser online or by phone

You'll need a solicitor to take court action if the council still refuses to provide emergency housing.

You may qualify for free legal help if you're on a low income.

Contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345

Last updated 20 December 2018 | © Shelter

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