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Covid-19: Homelessness

This content applies to England

Emergency measures introduced to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that relate to homelessness.

Homeless applications

People 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 homeless applications.

A refusal to accept a homeless application is challengeable by judicial review and legal aid may be available.

Court and tribunal hearings are still taking place during the pandemic but additional measures are in place. 

Priority need during the pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the argument for a priority need based on the applicant’s vulnerability is strengthened where the applicant:[1]

  • is 70 years old or older, or 
  • has at least one underlying health condition

The Covid-19 regulations currently in force state that a person is vulnerable if they have an underlying health condition 'including (but not limited to)' the following conditions:[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

The list above is not exhaustive and other underlying health issues may also strengthen the argument for priority need.

Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

The Homelessness code of guidance has been updated to reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on how local authorities assess priority need for accommodation.

Paragraphs 8.44 and 8.45 of the Code include the following information and advice:[3]

  • applicants who have been identified by their GP or a specialist as clinically extremely vulnerable are likely to be assessed as having priority need
  • the vulnerability of applicants who are 'clinically vulnerable' should also be considered in the context of Covid-19
  • where an applicant reports having a condition that increases their risk of a severe outcome of Covid-19 but has not been yet identified by a healthcare professional as clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, it may be necessary for the local authority to seek a clinical opinion in order to confirm their health needs
  • people sleeping rough should be carefully assessed, including their age and underlying health conditions

Suitability of accommodation under homelessness law

Any accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation must be suitable.

The High Court held that where a local authority had provided self-contained accommodation to a homeless applicant who was particularly vulnerable to contracting Covid-19, it was under no obligation to provide white goods and a bed. In this case, the claimant was provided with a mattress and a microwave oven but argued that it was insufficient to enable him to self-isolate. The Court dismissed this argument and held that the authority had acted lawfully.[4]

Accommodation provisions for people sleeping rough

On 5 November 2020, the government announced a new scheme to ensure vulnerable people, including those sleeping rough, are protected during the period of national restrictions and throughout the winter. The 'Protect Programme' is to run alongside the 'Everyone In' campaign. According to the press release, the top ten areas to receive the additional funding for the 'Protect Programme' are: London, City of Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Cornwall, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Manchester, Salford, Oxford, Leicester, and Birmingham.

Rough sleepers previously assisted under the 'Everyone In' initiative should continue to receive help under the Next Steps Accommodation Programme.

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.

In the letter dated 28 May 2020, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing requested that when arranging move-on accommodation for people sleeping rough, local authorities:

  • explore sustainable options, including through partnerships with housing associations and in the private rented sector
  • encourage people sleeping rough to stay with friends or family, ‘where appropriate and possible’
  • where no move-on possibilities exist, provide short-term accommodation while looking into long-term options.

Impact of 'Everyone in' accommodation on the housing benefit award

Housing benefit claimants under the age of 35 may qualify for an exemption from the shared accommodation rate if they have been accommodated in a hostel, a re-purposed hotel or a B&B under the 'Everyone In' initiative.

Ineligible EEA nationals before 1 January 2021

Between 24 June and 31 December 2020 EEA nationals who were either jobseekers, within the meaning of EU law, or not economically active and exercising the three-month initial right to reside, and who were either sleeping rough or were temporarily placed in emergency accommodation to self-isolate could access limited level of state support under temporary powers given to local authorities.

These powers expired on 31 December 2020 when new immigration rules came into force.

Guidance for hostels and night shelters

The guidance for hostels providing services to people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping contains information on safety measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections among residents and staff.

The guidance for night shelters contains information for night shelter managers, staff and residents.

Additional resources for advisers

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.

Groundswell has developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, which are 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).

Accommodation for people from abroad with no recourse to public funds (NRPF)

In R (on the application of Ncube) v Brighton and Hove City Council, the High Court has held that during the coronavirus pandemic local authorities can lawfully accommodate people with NRPF under section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 and section 2B of the National Health Service Act 2006.[5] The law allows local authorities to provide accommodation to people in their area, including those with NRPF, where there is an emergency or a disaster that involves danger to life, and to take such steps as they consider appropriate to improve their health. The High Court has held that the Covid-19 pandemic meets the definition of an emergency under section 138 of the 1972 Act. 

Previously, in a 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. On 28 May 2020, the Minister confirmed that the NRPF condition continues to apply and advised local authorities to use own judgment when deciding what support can be lawfully provided to people with NRPF.

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.

People 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.

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.[6] It means that people in this situation can make a homeless application to the local authority.

Government guidance for people fleeing or experiencing domestic abuse explains how to get help during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance has been translated into different languages.

UKVI asylum support accommodation

The Refugee council has information on changes to asylum support as a result of the pandemic.

[1] see the definition of 'a vulnerable person' in reg 2 and reg 2(4) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/364; see also Bankole-Jones v Watford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3100 (Admin), paras 71-77 and others.

[2] see the definition of a 'vulnerable person' in reg 2 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/364.

[3] paras 8.44, 8.45 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[4] R (on the application of Escott) v Chichester DC [2020] EWHC 1687 (Admin).

[5] R (on the application of Ncube) v Brighton and Hove CC [2021] EWHC 578 (Admin); see: s. 138 Local Government Act 1972 and s. 2B National Health Service Act 2006.

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

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