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Making a homelessness application

This content applies to England

How, where and when a homeless application can be made

Who can make a homeless application?

The Housing Act 1996 does not place any restrictions on who can make a homelessness application.[1] However, case law has provided that a local authority does not have to accept an application made by a person who is:

  • a dependent child
  • lacks mental capacity
  • unlawfully in the UK.

Dependent child

There is no statutory minimum age for making a homeless application but a dependent child cannot make an application in her/his own right. A child who is no longer dependent can apply, and the statutory scheme specifically provides that a homeless 16- or 17-year old can have a priority need.[2]


An application can only be made by a person who has the mental capacity to do so.[3] Under the Mental Health Act 2005, the Court of Protection can make decisions about the welfare and affairs of a person who lacks capacity. This includes the power to appoint a deputy to act and make decisions on that person’s behalf. However, it is uncertain whether a deputy can be authorised by the Court of Protection to make a homeless application on behalf of a person who lacks capacity.[4] It is hoped that this issue will be considered by the Supreme Court in due course.

Where an adult lacks capacity to make a homelessness application, s/he may qualify for services (potentially including accommodation) under the Care Act 2014. See Care Act 2014: access to housing with care and support for more information.

Unlawfully in UK

The Court of Appeal has held that an authority does not have to accept an application from a person who is unlawfully in the UK.[5] If an application is accepted the legislation provides that an applicant who is unlawfully in the UK will be ineligible for housing assistance[6] – for more information see Eligibility: non-EEA/EU nationals .

How to make a homeless application

Applications do not need to be in writing, nor in any other particular form. As long as an applicant who may be homeless or threatened with homelessness makes it clear that they are seeking accommodation or assistance in retaining or obtaining accommodation, this will constitute a homelessness application.[7]

Applications can also be made on a person's behalf by a third party. This could be someone acting in a professional capacity (for example a solicitor or social worker) or a friend or relative where the applicant is unable to make an application for her/himself. In some circumstances, a request for a transfer or an application to go on the housing register may be treated as a homeless application, for example, where the applicant's current housing conditions make it unreasonable for them to continue to occupy their home.[8]

Joint and separate applications

Under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, a homelessness application is made by 'a person'.[9] It is not legally clear whether joint applications can be made and, if so, what this means. However, in practice, local authorities often do take homelessness applications in more than one name. The applicants' circumstances should be considered jointly, unless they specifically request separate treatment, (or evidence indicates that they should be treated separately). For example, where one of joint applicants is found to be intentionally homeless and the other applicant was not a party to whatever led to the homelessness, the local authority may find the other applicant unintentionally homeless.[10] It would then have a duty to secure accommodation for the whole household including the intentionally homeless member, where s/he is either a person who normally resides with the applicant or a person with whom the applicant might reasonably be expected to reside.[11]

Where one member of the household has already applied, and has or may be found intentionally homeless, it is possible for another member to make a fresh application.[12] See also Multiple, repeat and withdrawn applications.

Who can be included on an application?

A homelessness application will include the members of the applicant's household. Family members who normally live with the applicant must be regarded as part of the household. The authority may decide whether anyone else could be included in the application - see Split households for details.

Where to apply

An application can be made to any local authority authority regardless of whether or not the applicant has a local connection. It can be made to any department of the local authority, not only to the housing or homelessness department.[13]

Find details of local authorities on

When can an application be made?

A local authority must ensure that a homelessness application can be made at all times during office hours. It must also ensure that there is 24-hour emergency cover, for example, by ensuring applicants can make telephone contact with an appropriate officer. The police and other relevant services should be given details of how to access the service outside normal office hours.[14]

Local authority duty to make inquiries

A local authority must make inquiries where it has reason to believe that a person is homeless or threatened with homelessness.[15] If it is satisfied that an applicant is homeless and eligible, it must carry out an assessment of the applicant's needs, and develop a personalised housing plan to define what steps both the authority and the applicant will take to prevent or relieve homelessness. On conclusion of its inquiries, the authority must notify the applicant of its decision as to what, if any, duty is owed.

Duty of public authorities to refer

Where a public authority refers a case to the local authority under the duty of a public authority to refer,[16] this does not constitute a homeless application.[17] See Duty of public authority to refer for full details of which public authorities are subject to the duty to refer.

Applications to a local authority contractor

An application can made to another body/organisation where a local authority has contracted out certain functions under Part 7. This is usually to a private registered provider of social housing who may also have been involved in a large-scale voluntary stock transfer with the authority. The functions that can be contracted out include:[18]

  • making arrangements to ensure that advice and information about homelessness, and the prevention of homelessness, is available free of charge within the authority's district
  • carrying out inquiries about and deciding a person's eligibility for assistance
  • making inquiries about and deciding whether any duty is owed to a person under Part 7, and, if so, what duty
  • assessing an eligible applicant's needs and agreeing a personalised housing plan
  • undertaking prevention and relief duties owed to an applicant
  • making referrals to another authority
  • carrying out reviews of decisions.
  • securing and helping to secure accommodation to discharge duties under Part 7.

Where the local authority has contracted out its homelessness functions, these are treated as being carried out by the local authority and liability rests with that authority.[19] Any court action is taken against the local authority, except where the contractor has failed to fulfill the conditions specified by the authority in its contract, or where criminal proceedings are brought against the contractor. [20]

Applications to social services

Homeless applicants with a child under 18, or homeless applicants aged 16 or 17 years old may also have applied to social services under the Children Act 1989 or under legislation affecting care leavers. Social services should assess the child's needs.[21]

Social services may request assistance from the housing authority to help discharge their duties towards children in need under the Children Act.[22] Housing authorities must comply with such requests in as far as they do not adversely affect the performance of their own duties.

See Cooperation with other agencies for details.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references on this page are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

[1] s.183 Housing Act 1996.

[2] R v Oldham Borough Council ex parte Garlick (1993) 25 HLR 319, HL; R (on the application of MT (by his litigation friend) v Oxford CC [2015] EWHC 795 (Admin); para 18.8 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[3] R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex parte Ferdous Begum (1993) 25 HLR 319, HL; R(Uddin) v Southwark LBC (2019) EQHC 180 (Admin).

[4] WB (by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) v W District Council [2018] EWCA Civ 928.

[5] R v Westminster CC ex p Castelli and Tristran-Garcia (1996) 28 HLR 617, CA.

[6] s.185 Housing Act 1996.

[7] s.183(1) Housing Act 1996; Bury MBC v Gibbons [2010] EWCA Civ 327; R v Chiltern DC ex parte Roberts (1991) 23 HLR 387, QBD; paras 18.5 and 18.6 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[8] R (on the application of Aweys & Ors) v Birmingham CC [2007] EWHC 52 (Admin); R v Islington London Borough Council ex parte B (1998) 30 HLR 706, QBD; R v Chiltern DC ex parte Roberts (1991) 23 HLR 387, QBD; para 18.6 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[9] s.183(1) Housing Act 1996.

[10] R v Penwith DC ex parte Trevena (1985) 17 HLR 526, QBD; R v North Devon DC ex parte Lewis [1981] 1 WLR 328, QBD; R v West Dorset DC ex parte Phillips (1984) 17 HLR 336, QBD.

[11] s.176(a) and (b) Housing Act 1996.

[12] R v Mole Valley DC ex parte Burton (1988) 20 HLR 479, QBD; para 9.10 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[13] para 18.5 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[14] R v Camden London Borough Council ex parte Gillan and others (1988) 21 HLR 114, QBD, para 18.2 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[15] s.184(1) Housing Act 1996. See also LGSCO complaint against Hounslow LBC n. 17018631.

[16] s.213B Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.10 Homelessness Reduction Act 2018

[17] para 18.7 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[18] Local Authorities (Contracting Out of Allocation of Housing and Homelessness Functions) Order 1996 SI 1996/3205, made under s.70 Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994; Chapter 5 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[19] Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994; para 5.11 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[20] para 5.9 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[21] s.17 and Sch.2 Children Act 1989.

[22] s.27 Children Act 1989.

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