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Covid-19: 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:[2]

  • 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 Covid-19 regulations are:

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

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:[4]

  • 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.

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

Suitability of accommodation

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.[5]

For more information about suitability of accommodation provided by local authorities to homeless applicants, see Offers and suitability of accommodation.

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.

Housing benefit claimants under 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. For more information, see the page Covid-19: Benefits and income.

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).

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.

Ineligible EEA nationals

The following categories of EEA nationals exercising free movement rights in the UK are ineligible for benefits and homelessness assistance:[6]

  • jobseekers, within the meaning of EU law
  • those not economically active and exercising the three-month initial right to reside

On 30 June 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a ministerial letter which confirms that from 24 June 2020 EEA nationals in the two categories above who are either sleeping rough or have been temporarily placed in emergency accommodation for the purposes of self-isolation can access limited level of state support under temporary powers given to local authorities.[7]

The ministerial letter clarifies that:

  • non-statutory emergency accommodation and floating support will be available for up to 12 weeks
  • EEA nationals assisted under these measures will remain ineligible for benefits and statutory services, and will be supported with:
    • finding employment and regularising their stay in the country, or
    • returning to their home country and connecting with local support services, where appropriate
  • in order to qualify for support under the temporary measures, the individual must be willing to engage with:
    • navigators/support workers
    • employment support/training and job searching
  • support will be withdrawn from those EEA nationals who are assessed as not meeting the necessary criteria, unless the individual:
    • requires shielding or treatment from COVID-19
    • is seeking to reconnect to their home country.

These powers will continue until 31 December 2020. After this date new domestic immigration rules will be in place.

Note that an EEA national who was previously economically active and is looking for another job might have retained their worker/self-employed status and therefore remain eligible for public funds.  For more information about EEA nationals’ eligibility for benefits, social housing and homelessness assistance, see Persons eligible for assistance.

Guidance for hostels

On 5 August 2020, the government published an updated guidance for hostels providing services to people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping that includes information on safety measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections among residents and staff. The guidance does not cover night shelters. 

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.[8] 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Complaints to LGSCO

On 29 June 2020 the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman resumed existing casework and taking on new complaints. The LGSCO proceedings were temporarily suspended in March 2020 in response to the pandemic.

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

[2] See the definition of 'vulnerable' in reg 1(5) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/684 and Schedule 1 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/684.

[3] See the definition of 'vulnerable' in reg 1(5) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/684.

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

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

[6] Derogation under Art 24(2) EU Directive 2004/38/EC.

[7] COVID-19 Response: Funding support for those in emergency accommodation and EEA Rough Sleepers, MHCLG 24 June 2020. The letter confirms that the government has temporarily suspended the derogation under Article 24(2) of the EU Directive 2004/38/EC.

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

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