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Homelessness

This content applies to England

This page provides an overview of emergency measures introduced to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that are relevant to homelessness.

Homeless applications

Clients who are homeless or threatened with becoming homeless can apply as homeless to their local authority. There may be temporary safety measures in place, but authorities must not refuse to accept a homeless application. A refusal to accept a homeless application is challengeable by judicial review and legal aid may be available. See the page Court and tribunal hearings for information on how court proceedings are affected during the pandemic.

Priority need during the pandemic

The homelessness legislation specifies that a homeless applicant qualifies for emergency (interim) accommodation only if the local authority has a reason to believe the applicant may be eligible (different rules for non-EEA, EEA and British nationals apply), homeless and in priority need.[1]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the argument for a priority need based on the applicant’s vulnerability is strengthened where the applicant:

  • is 70 years old or above, or
  • has at least one of the underlying health conditions listed below, which have been identified in as increasing the risk of a serious outcome of a Covid-19 infection

The conditions identified in the regulations as increasing the risk of a serious outcome of a Covid-19 infection are:[2]

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • problems with the spleen, such as sickle cell disease or removal of the spleen
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • being seriously overweight, with a body mass index of 40 or above.

Note that the list above is not exhaustive. The emergency regulations state that the list of underlying health conditions 'includes but is not limited to' the conditions above,[3] therefore other underlying health issues may also give rise to a priority need argument.

For more information about how to make a homeless application and what the council will look at, see the Homeless applications section.

Provisions for rough sleepers

On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness wrote to local authorities asking them to urgently accommodate all rough sleepers and focus on the provision of adequate facilities to enable people to adhere to the guidance on hygiene or isolation, including for those who are at risk of sleeping rough. Local authorities may use third party accommodation providers to comply with this request. Accommodation providers, such as hotels, holiday homes, may stay open if they provide accommodation or support services for homeless people.[4]

People who are rough sleeping or living in temporary accommodation are bound to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that measures taken locally and nationally in response to it is effectively communicated to people who use homelessness support services. The charity Groundswell has developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, which will be updated as the situation evolves in line with national guidance, feedback from partners and ongoing consultation with people who are experiencing homelessness. They include templates and flyers on coronavirus that can be handed out to people who are rough sleeping or living in hostels or other temporary accommodation (with the key points translated into various languages).

Guidance for hostels, day centres and other accommodation providers

The government’s guidance for hostels and day centres for street homeless people has been withdrawn and replaced with a holding statement.

The current guidance for accommodation providers, such as hotels or holiday homes, advises that they should be able to stay open if:

  • they are part of the response to support key workers or vulnerable groups
  • there is a specific need for some or all of the site to remain open (for example they are housing people who have been flooded out of their homes, being used by public services to provide emergency accommodation or are not able to return to their primary residence)
  • they are providing rooms to support homeless people, through arrangements with local authorities and other public bodies
  • it is a holiday park or caravan park and is someone’s primary residence.

This is reiterated in the ministerial letter published on 25 March 2020.

Fleeing domestic abuse

A person must be treated as homeless if it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy accommodation because it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence or other violence directed against the applicant, or someone who lives with or might reasonably be expected to live with them.[5] It means that people in this situation will be able to make a homeless application to the local authority (see ‘Homeless applications’ above).

The government has published guidance for people fleeing or experiencing domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance advises on how to get help safely in an emergency.

For more information on domestic abuse in the context of homelessness, see the page Violence from any person.

While the government has advised refraining from moving homes in non-essential situations, social landlords have been advised that facilitating an allocation or a transfer  where someone is fleeing domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic would be deemed in the public interest. For more information, see the section 'Moving home' on the page Protection for tenants.

People with no recourse to public funds (NRPF)

In his letter dated 26 March 2020, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness stated that one of the principles local authorities should adopt during the pandemic is to use alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds, who require shelter and other forms of support.

The charity No Recourse to Public Funds Network has produced a comprehensive guide to options available to people with NRPF who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The guide includes information on access to the NHS for treatment related to COVID-19 and an overview of benefits which are not classed as 'public funds', and may be available to those with NRPF.

Clients seeking advice on how the pandemic has affected their immigration status, should be advised to contact the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre, a solicitor, or a certified immigration adviser.

UKVI asylum support accommodation
The Refugee Council has reported that the Home Office has confirmed that it has stayed evictions from UKVI accommodation provided by UKVI under asylum support for three months (see Asylum support - All evictions and terminations of support paused for 3 months).

For general information about assistance for clients with NRPF, see the pages on help for ineligible migrants, as options will depend on the client’s personal circumstances.

Restrictions on movement

Emergency measures introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 allow people to leave the places where they are living only if they have a 'reasonable excuse', for example they need to obtain food or medical supplies, seek medical help, exercise, go to work, move home or escape harm.[6] On 11 May 2020, the government published new Staying alert and safe (social distancing) guidance that explains the revised safety measures. 

These restrictions do not apply to ‘any person who is homeless’.[7] Since the regulation do not define the term ‘homeless’ for its purpose, arguably the statutory definition of homelessness[8] should apply.  Homeless people who have to leave their homes should still adhere to the social distancing guidance and guidance on self-isolation if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

LGSCO – suspended proceedings

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has temporarily suspended all proceedings that require information from, or action by, local authorities and care providers. This is likely going to impact on any complaints about the handling of homelessness applications by local authorities.

[1] s.188(1) Housing Act 1996.

[2] See Schedule 1, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350.

[3] reg 1(3)(c)(ii) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350.

[4] reg 5(4)(b) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350.

[5] s.177(1) Housing Act 1996.

[6] For the full list of circumstances that count as 'reasonable excuse', see reg 6(1)-(2) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350, as amended.

[7] reg 6(4) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350.

[8] ss.175 and 177 Housing Act 1996.

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