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Emergency housing options and costs

This content applies to England

Other emergency housing options that may be available, and paying for accommodation.

The suitability of each emergency housing option will vary depending on the person's housing status, needs and preferences and whether the person has any money to pay for housing. In addition, the options available will depend upon the types of emergency accommodation available in the local area. Advisers should keep up-to-date details of all the local options.

exclamation The government has published guidance for hostels and day centres for people experiencing rough sleeping with the aim to assist staff and employers in taking appropriate measures to address coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance advises that there is a need to consider contingency plans for the possibility of residents having reduced immunity and experiencing breathing difficulties caused by Covid-19. See COVID-19 and housing for more information about homelessness support.

Households with children

Social services departments have the power to make payments to prevent children becoming homeless, and as an alternative to taking them into care. This might include money for a hostel or for a deposit on a flat. See the page Social services duties to children in need for more information. Remember that the local authority may have a duty to accommodate households with children (see the page on Right to help from the local authority).

For information on young people finding and paying for accommodation, see Accommodation options and costs.

Find details of local authority social services departments through

People from abroad

People from abroad may be able to get help from social services in the form of accommodation, assistance in kind, vouchers and, in rare cases, cash. People from abroad without dependent children may be able to get this help under community care legislation, however they will need to have an urgent need for care and attention which is not being met in any other way. Destitution alone is not sufficient grounds to show a need for care and attention.[1] Other factors, such as disability, age or other special circumstances, combined with destitution, will need to be evident. People from abroad are unlikely to be accepted by hostels unless they are entitled to benefits.

EU nationals who are rough sleepers may be able to get support to return to their home country – see the page on Rough sleeping for more information.

Locally administered assistance (previously discretionary social fund)

Much of the discretionary social fund was abolished on 1 April 2013.[2] Community care grants and crisis loans are no longer available to new applicants and have been replaced by a system of locally administered assistance. Budgeting loans are still available, until they are replaced by budgeting advances.

Under the new system of locally administered assistance, each local authority will devise its own scheme for helping meet hardship that cannot be met from regular income. Applications for assistance will be made to the local authority. Government funding is provided to local authorities for these schemes, however there is no statutory requirement on a local authority to provide a scheme for locally administered assistance. If they do have such a scheme it is for the local authority to determine who to help and how and when to help them.

Budgeting loans/advances

A budgeting loan is an interest-free loan to help benefit-claimants spread the cost of items that they cannot afford on their current income. A claimant must have been on income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance for at least 26 weeks. Loans are repaid by deductions from the claimant's benefit. Loans can be awarded for seven defined categories, which include:[3]

  • rent in advance and/or removal expenses for fresh accommodation, and
  • furniture and household equipment.

Applications should be made using claim form SF500.

Budgeting advances will replace budgeting loans for people in receipt of universal credit.

Staying with friends

If there are friends or relatives with whom the client can stay, s/he may find this the least stressful emergency option and is likely to feel safe. Staying with friends or family can also give the client time to explore other accommodation options, and could allow them to save up money for private rented accommodation, or go on a hostel waiting list. However, even friends may experience tensions due to a lack of personal space when someone else is living in their home; this could make an already difficult situation worse for the client and s/he may have reservations about pursuing this option. Some clients may not be able to bring themselves to ask friends if they can stay with them, and advisers need to be sensitive to this.

Hostels and shelters

There are a variety of different types and sizes of hostels run by public and private sector landlords and voluntary organisations. These are listed below, beginning with the very short-term options.

Nightshelters and winter (cold weather) shelters

Nightshelters provide basic accommodation and are usually restricted in their opening hours and the number of nights a person can stay. They are designed to provide easy access accommodation for people who sleep on the streets but who want somewhere for a few nights' respite. There is usually a charge to stay in a nightshelter, although if the client is entitled to housing benefit then this will usually cover most of the charge.

During the winter months some charities, voluntary organisations and local authorities set up winter shelters. These temporary shelters are often in makeshift buildings such as old offices or schools. They normally only provide a bed and food and are open in the evenings and overnight. They are sometimes free of charge, although some will require residents to pay a small charge, and others will require residents to claim housing benefit.

Some shelters are open for a few weeks during the coldest months or over the Christmas period. Others - usually in cities where there is a large street homeless population - are open for the full winter period (often December to March). Some winter shelters will only accept referrals from contact and assessment teams (see the page on Rough sleeping) or other agencies working with street homeless people. Many winter shelters become fully booked within days of opening, and may not have many vacancies arising after this. Advisers will usually need to collect information about these shelters locally by contacting local homeless charities and housing providers. Homeless England also has details on a number of schemes around the country.

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

During periods of severe weather local authorities provide facilities for people sleeping rough to minimise the risk of death from exposure to adverse weather conditions. There is no statutory definition of ‘extreme weather’. It has been understood to include extreme cold, snow, rain, wind and heat. Support provided as part of SWEP should be accessible to everyone and the usual exclusion criteria, such as eligibility for public funds or local connection should not apply.

Usually local authorities implement SWEP as soon as the weather forecast indicates the temperature would fall to zero degrees Celsius or below for three consecutive nights. A local authority does not have to wait with implementing special measures until then.

Homeless Link has published guidance for local authorities on designing and implementing appropriate SWEP support measures.

Backpackers hostels and youth hostels

Although these hostels are aimed at people travelling on a budget, they can sometimes be a useful short-term option for clients with some money. They are usually found in larger cities and in areas popular with tourists. Most have no age criteria, including many youth hostels. Many will have vacancies on the same day, and can offer basic dormitory accommodation, often including breakfast. However, standards can vary, and backpacker and youth hostels are unlikely to accept people who are claiming housing benefit. Additionally, many of these hostels will request proof that the client is a backpacker, for example, an overseas passport or travel documents. Local tourist information offices should have information on backpackers hostels and youth hostels.

Direct access hostels

These are intended to provide easily accessible accommodation. They are sometimes open 24 hours, although some hostels require residents to be out during the day, and others will impose a night time curfew. Some may also have a limit to the amount of time a client can stay at the hostel. Advisers should also note that there may be entry criteria or restrictions:

  • many will only accept referrals for bed spaces from specific agencies such as day centres, local authorities and contact and assessment teams (see the page on Rough sleeping)
  • most have entry criteria, often based on age and gender
  • some hostels will only accept those with specific support needs, or who have slept rough for a certain period of time
  • many will not accept those with certain convictions, for example, for arson or for Schedule One offences (offences against children and young people under the age of 18).
  • most do not accept asylum seekers or people from abroad who are subject to immigration control and who cannot claim benefits
  • many do not accept couples, and most will not accept pets
  • many will not accept people who are not entitled to housing benefit.

Some hostels will only take referrals from street outreach teams (see the page on Rough sleeping) or other agencies working with street homeless people. Those hostels that accept direct approaches from homeless people can fill up very quickly, especially in London. It is advisable to phone as early as possible in the day to check whether there are vacancies, and to make a referral.

Direct access hostels are not free and can be quite expensive, especially hostels that provide support services, as the rent will take into account staff charges. Many hostels provide food, usually breakfast and an evening meal, and meals will often need to be paid for even if the resident does not take them. In addition, many of the rooms are shared. However, the advantage is that no deposit or rent in advance is required.

A person on benefits or with a low income should claim housing benefit to help pay the rent, hostel staff will often assist with any claim. Benefit claimants need only show that they will be entitled to receive housing benefit once they move in. Depending on the hostel, this could be proof that they have made a claim for a qualifying benefit such as jobseekers allowance. They will also require some form of personal identification. Housing benefit will be backdated to the date that the claimant moved in.[4] For those on benefits a service charge of approximately £15-20 per week is added to cover things like food and laundry.

A person who is working and whose income exceeds the benefit level will have to pay her/his own rent. However, the support element of the rent (covering services such as night staff and resettlement advisers) should be covered by Supporting People funding, which will reduce the charge that a working person has to pay. Most hostels are reluctant to take working people but can sometimes be persuaded to do so. A working person will usually need to have enough money to pay for at least the first two nights.

Most hostels are operated by small specialist housing associations (or registered social landlords); others are run by charities, voluntary organisations, churches, and local authorities. Contact and assessment teams and day centres are a useful source of information on local hostels.


To find information about direct access hostels in London, use the Homeless England online directory.[5]

Outside London

Outside of London, details of local hostels can be obtained the 'Emergency accommodation directory', published by Homeless link, the Homeless UK website, Shelter's free housing advice helpline, Shelter advice centres, local authorities or libraries. The 'London hostels directory' (published by Homeless link) also covers some hostels outside London.

Longer-term hostels

These are hostels that usually have waiting lists or will only accept referrals from certain agencies. Advice agencies can often arrange to have referral rights. Vacancies can be infrequent, especially in London. Longer-term hostels are often for specific groups of people, for example, young homeless people, students or working people. Many longer-term hostels will specify whether they will take clients with low, medium or high support needs. Medium- and high-support hostels are suitable for clients with support needs around issues such as drug and alcohol use and mental health. Medium- and high-support hostels will usually not take clients with no or low support needs.

Long-term hostels are run by various organisations including housing associations, charities and local authorities.

In London, the 'London hostels directory' (published by Homeless Link) gives full details of most hostels in Greater London.

Outside London, details of local hostels can be obtained from the Homeless UK website, Shelter's free housing advice helpline, Shelter Advice Centres, the local authority, other advice centres or libraries. Shelter's online advice services directory provides details about local advice services across the country.


Many hostels provide move-on or resettlement advice or may have a dedicated worker (sometimes called a key worker) or team to do this. Some hostels have nomination rights to other housing providers such as long-stay hostels, local authorities or housing associations.

Women's refuges

Women who have to leave home because of domestic violence or threats may want to stay at a refuge. With effect from 31 March 2013, there is a new cross-government definition of 'domestic violence and abuse' - see the Definition of domestic violence page in the Relationship breakdown section from more on this.

Women's refugees are usually ordinary houses shared by women and children. Women do not have to go to a refuge in their own area and the address is kept secret to protect women from violent partners. The refuge staff will help with claiming benefits and finding other housing. However, advisers should note that women with male children may find it difficult to get into a refuge, especially if the children are over twelve years of age.

Women who need a place in a refuge could contact the following organisations:

The above organisations have 24-hour-a-day helplines.

The adviser can also contact organisations on the client's behalf. Women's Aid also publish the 'Gold Book', a national directory of domestic abuse services with contact information for refuges and details about specialist domestic abuse services across the UK.

There is limited similar provision for men experiencing violence, but Men's Advice Line runs a national helpline for male victims of domestic violence.

Women and men who are fleeing violence may be considered to be vulnerable and therefore in priority need, and so may be able to get help from the local authority. They may also be in priority need for other reasons, such as having a dependent child with them. For more details see the page on Right to help from the local authority and the section on Homelessness applications.

Bed and breakfast hotels

These are privately run hotels and are usually more expensive than hostels. They will often want money in advance. The conditions and services, such as room cleaning, may be poor and there may be no cooking facilities; some do not allow residents to stay in their rooms during the day. Some do not accept people who are claiming housing benefit. Local advice centres or the local authority may have lists of bed and breakfast hotels; they are also listed in the Yellow Pages telephone directory.


From 1 September 2012, squatting a residential property is a criminal offence.[6] The offence does not include squatting in commercial properties, but there are other offences relating to trespassing on the premises of, for example, airports, dockyards, explosives factories and consulates. Anyone considering squatting can get advice from the Advisory Service for Squatters. The rights of squatters are covered in the section on Squatters.

[1] s.55(1) Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

[2] s.70 Welfare Reform Act 2012; Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.6 and Savings Provisions) Order 2012 SI 2012/3090.

[3] SB16 – A guide to The Social Fund, DWP, April 2013.

[4] reg 76(5)(b) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 57(5)(b) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[5] Homeless England has replaced Homeless UK which replaced the Hostels On-Line Project (HOLP).

[6] s.144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

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