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Older people: homelessness

This content applies to England

Local authority duties to provide accommodation to older people who are homeless.

In addition to applying to the homelessness department for assistance, a homeless older person with care and support needs can also ask for a needs assessment from social services. See Access to housing with care and support.

For full details on applying for assistance as a homeless person, see Homelessness.

Homeless: definition

There are several ways in which a person can be legally defined as homeless. This includes where it is unreasonable to continue to occupy accommodation.

See Defining homelessness for details about who is legally homeless.

Unreasonable to continue to occupy

A person who has accommodation can be treated as being homeless if it is not reasonable for her/him to continue to occupy the accommodation.[1] Factors that the local authority might consider when deciding whether it is reasonable for an older applicant to continue to occupy her/his  accommodation include:

  • affordability – accommodation may be unaffordable if, for example, the person's income has fallen following retirement and no longer meets the costs of essentials such as rent and heating
  • physical condition of the property – this can include the suitability for someone who is disabled or has health problems.[2] For example, the applicant may no longer be able to manage stairs in her/his home, or may need to use a wheelchair and the property is not adapted. However, an applicant risks being found intentionally homeless if s/he does not explore available help (for example adaptations to the property) to enable them to remain in the property (see Older people: remaining at home).

People living with the applicant

When assessing whether a person is homeless, local authorities must treat those people who normally live with the applicant, or could reasonably be expected to live with her/him, as a member of their household.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance advises that this will cover situations where an elderly or disabled person lives with a companion.[3]

Threatened homelessness

An applicant is 'threatened with homelessness' if:

  • it is likely that s/he will become homeless within 56 days, or
  • s/he has been given a valid section 21 notice that will expire in the next 56 days.

Assessments and personalised housing plans

For homelessness applications made on or after 3 April 2018, where the local authority is satisfied that an applicant is eligible for assistance and homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must:

  • carry out an assessment of the applicant's housing and support needs
  • work with applicant to devise a personal housing plan to prevent the applicant from becoming homeless or to find somewhere to live.

See Assessments and personalised housing plans for details.

Duty to refer

With effect from 1 October 2018 certain public authorities must notify a local housing authority in England, where one of its service users:

  • may be homeless or at risk of homelessness, and
  • agrees to the referral. 

Public authorities with a duty to refer include hospitals and social services departments. A hospital patient, for example, may be referred if on discharge s/he will either have no home to go to or her/his home is no longer reasonable to continue to occupy for reasons related to her/his health.

See Duty of public authority to refer for details.

Priority need

The priority need categories include people who are vulnerable because of old age, mental illness or disability, physical disability, or another special reason.[4]

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that local authorities should not use a fixed age beyond which vulnerability occurs automatically (or below which it can be ruled out).[5] An older person may also be vulnerable as a result of their physical or mental health/capability.

See Vulnerable people for more information.

Provision of accommodation

Where a local authority makes an offer of accommodation, that accommodation must be suitable.

If the authority finds that the applicant needs support to maintain the accommodation that is offered, then it should consider these support needs and make referrals as appropriate.[6] In the case of an older applicant, this could include referrals to social services for a needs assessment under the Care Act 2014 (see Access to housing with care and support) and to local support services (such as a tenancy sustainment scheme).

Accommodation provided by the local authority must be suitable for the needs of the applicant and anyone who resides with her/him.[7] The authority should take into account any medical or physical needs of the applicant.[8] It should avoid placing applicants in isolated accommodation away from support services such as GPs and social workers.[9] Authorities should take into account the importance of the companionship of pets for older people, and, where an applicant has a pet should give careful consideration to accommodating them with their pet.[10]

Applicants who feel that the accommodation offered to them is unsuitable can request a review.[11] A review can be requested whether the applicant accepts the offer of accommodation or not.[12] However, if the applicant turns down the offer, and the review is unsuccessful, the local authority may have no further duty to house the applicant. For this reason applicants are generally advised to accept any offer and challenge it following acceptance.

For more information on the local authority's accommodation duty, see Local authority duties: advice and accommodation. For information on requesting a review of an offer of accommodation, see Challenging local authority decisions.


The information on this page applies only to England. Go to Shelter Cymru for information relating to Wales.

[1] s.175(3) Housing Act 1996.

[2] R v Wycombe DC ex p Homes (1990) 22 HLR 150, QBD.

[3] para 6.8 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[4] s.189(1) Housing Act 1996. 

[5] para 8.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[6] para 11.12 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[7] s.210 Housing Act 1996.

[8] para 17.5 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[9] para 17.49 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[10] para 17.63 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[11] s.202(Housing Act 1996.

[12] s.202(1A) Housing Act 1996.

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