Homeless application process
People who can make a homeless application to a local authority, what duties are owed and challenging decisions.
- What constitutes a homeless application
- Where to make a homeless application
- Who can make a homeless application
- Who can be included in an application
- Duty to make inquiries
- Prevention duty
- Interim accommodation duty
- Relief duty
- Main duty
- Local authority decisions
- Applicant challenges to decisions
- Homelessness Code of Guidance
What constitutes a homeless application
Homeless applications are made to a local authority.
Applications can be made by the person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness, or by someone on their behalf. This could be someone acting in a professional capacity, for example a solicitor, adviser or social worker. It could also be made by a friend or relative if the applicant is unable to make an application for themselves.
Applications do not need to be in writing, nor in any other particular form. As long as an applicant who may be homeless or threatened with homelessness makes it clear that they are seeking accommodation or assistance in retaining or obtaining accommodation, this constitutes a homelessness application.
A request for a transfer or an application to go on the housing register may be treated as a homeless application, for example where the applicant's current housing conditions make it unreasonable for them to continue to occupy their home.
Where a public authority refers a case to the local authority under the duty of a public authority to refer, this does not constitute a homeless application. However, a local authority should always respond to a referral by contacting the person referred.
Where to make a homeless application
Find details of local authorities on Gov.uk.
Out of hours applications
A local authority must ensure that a homelessness application can be made at any time. It must also ensure that:
there is 24-hour emergency cover, for example, by ensuring applicants can make telephone contact with an appropriate officer
the police and other relevant services have details of how to access the service outside normal office hours
Who can make a homeless application
The Housing Act 1996 does not place any restrictions on who can make a homelessness application.
The courts have decided that local authority does not have to accept an application from a person who:
is a dependent child
lacks mental capacity
is in the UK unlawfully
Application by a person under the age of 18
There is no statutory minimum age for making a homeless application. A dependent child cannot make an application in their own right. An application would need to be made by the parent or carer.
The Housing Act 1996 does not define dependent children. The Homelessness Code of Guidance says that all children under the age of 16 should be treated as dependent. Children should also be treated as dependent if they are:
aged 16 to 18
in or about to start full-time education or training, or otherwise unable to support themselves
living at home
A child who is no longer dependent can apply as homeless. The law provides that a homeless 16 or 17 year old can have a priority need.
Application on behalf of a person who lacks mental capacity
Where an adult lacks capacity to make a homelessness application, they may qualify for services, including accommodation, under the Care Act 2014.
Application from a person who is in the UK unlawfully
The Court of Appeal has held that a local authority does not have to accept an application from a person who is in the UK unlawfully.
If the local authority accepts the application, the legislation provides that an applicant who is in the UK unlawfully is not eligible for housing assistance.
Who can be included in an application
A homeless application includes the members of the applicant's household. The local authority must treat as part of the household:
family members who usually live with the applicant
If someone usually resides with the applicant as a member of the family, the local authority cannot decide that it is not reasonable for them to live together.
The authority can decide whether anyone else could be included in the application.
The law says a homelessness application is made by 'a person'.
However, a local authority can accept a joint homelessness application. The applicants' circumstances should be considered jointly, unless they specifically request separate treatment or the local authority believes they should be treated separately.
Duty to make inquiries
The local authority makes homelessness inquiries to determine if the applicant is eligible for assistance and, if so, what duties the authority might owe to the applicant.
The local authority only needs to have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness.
If a local authority has a duty to make inquiries and refuses to do so, the applicant may challenge this through a judicial review.
Check if someone is likely to be homeless and eligible
Check if someone is legally homeless or threatened with homelessness using our interactive tool
Use our homeless rights checker to find out if someone is likely to be eligible for assistance based on their immigration or residence status.
Where the local authority is satisfied that the applicant is threatened with homelessness and eligible for assistance, it owes the applicant the prevention duty. This requires the local authority to work with the applicant to help prevent them becoming homeless.
The prevention duty applies even if the applicant does not have a local connection to the authority’s area.
If the applicant becomes homeless, the authority should then make inquiries into whether the relief duty is owed.
There are circumstances in which the prevention duty can end early.
Interim accommodation duty
The authority has a duty to provide interim (also known as emergency) accommodation if, at any point during enquiries, there is a reason to believe that an applicant may be:
eligible for assistance, and
in priority need
If the authority fails to provide interim accommodation, or if the accommodation provided is unsuitable for the applicant, this can be challenged by judicial review.
The relief duty requires an authority to ‘take reasonable steps to help the applicant secure that suitable accommodation becomes available for the applicant’s occupation for at least six months.’ This requires the local authority to work with the applicant to help them find and keep accommodation.
If the local authority has a reason to believe that the applicant may have a priority need, the interim accommodation duty applies and runs concurrently with the relief duty.
The duty is owed by the authority to which the application was made, unless the application meets the conditions for a local connection referral to another local authority.
If homelessness is not relieved within 56 days then the main housing duty applies automatically if the local authority is satisfied that the applicant is in priority need and not intentionally homeless.
In other circumstances the local authority can give notice to end the relief duty after 56 days or even earlier.
Where the relief duty has ended, in most cases the local authority is subject to the main housing duty where it is satisfied that the applicant is:
eligible for assistance
in priority need
not intentionally homeless
The duty is owed by the authority to which the application was made unless the application meets the conditions for a local connection referral to another local authority.
The main duty means that the authority has to secure temporary accommodation for the applicant until the duty is ended.
Local authority decisions
When it concludes its inquiries, the local authority must notify the applicant of its decision about what duty is owed.
Notification of decisions
When the local authority completes its duty to carry out inquiries in response to a homelessness application, it must notify the applicant of its decision. This could mean that notifications are needed about:
accommodation duties once inquiries have been completed
The notification is usually referred to as a ‘section 184 decision letter’.
The local authority must:
give notification of the decision in writing
inform the applicant of the reasons for the decision
inform the applicant where they have the right to request a review of a decision and the time limits for making such as request
The notification must either be given to the applicant or made available for the applicant to collect. The local authority may send it by letter or email depending on the needs of the applicant.
Applicant challenges to decisions
If an applicant disagrees with the local authority decision, they can challenge the decision.
For most decisions, an applicant can request an internal review. If the internal review upholds the original decision, the applicant can appeal to the County Court.
The internal review process is not available for some decisions. The applicant would need to apply for judicial review in the High Court
The applicant can request temporary accommodation pending the outcome of a challenge.
Help to challenge a decision in a homelessness application is in scope for legal aid. Read more about legal aid for housing problems on Shelter Legal.
Most adverse local authority decisions on homelessness are initially challenged through an internal review (also known as a statutory review), where a more senior person reconsiders the decision.
Some of the most common decisions that can be challenged using the internal review process are:
whether the applicant is eligible for assistance, homeless, in priority need, intentionally homeless or has a local connection, and therefore what duty the authority owes
a notification that a local authority is going to make or has made a referral to another authority (before a decision has been made on whether the referral is successful) where this is made at the stage of main housing duty
the suitability of accommodation provided in discharge of the local authority's duties under Part 7 and offered in order to end duties
whether a duty has been discharged towards the applicant
A request for an internal review must be made within 21 days of being notified of the authority’s decision or such longer period as the authority allows. This time limit can be extended at the local authority’s discretion.
An applicant can request a review and follow up with reasons at a later date, rather than request an out of time review.
County Court appeal
If the internal review upholds the original decision, the applicant can appeal to the County Court.
The role of the County Court is to ensure that the local authority has correctly understood and applied the law, and has followed a fair decision-making process.
There is a 21-day time limit for appeals to the County court.
There are some decisions that are not subject to the internal review process. These decisions can be challenged by judicial review.
Some of the most common decisions that can only be challenged using a judicial review are:
a refusal to accept a homelessness application
the suitability of interim accommodation
a decision not to provide accommodation pending a review
a refusal to accept an out of time review or to carry out a discretionary second review
Homelessness Code of Guidance
The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities is issued by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). It provides statutory guidance on how to interpret and apply the homelessness legislation and contains details of good practice that local authorities should adopt. It is not legally binding but local authorities are required to have regard to it.
The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references here are to this Code.
For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.
Last updated: 19 December 2022