Legal definition of homelessness and threatened homelessness

The legal definition of homeless and threatened with homelessness for people making a homeless application to a local authority.

This content applies to England

Who is legally homeless?

A person is legally defined as homeless if:[1]

  • they have no accommodation available in the UK or abroad

  • they have no legal right to occupy the accommodation

  • they have a split household and accommodation is not available for whole household

  • it is unreasonable to continue to occupy their accommodation

  • they are at risk of violence from any person

  • they are unable to secure entry to their accommodation

  • they live in a moveable structure but have no place to put it

Local authority duties where someone may be homeless

If a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless then they must make inquiries into:[2]

  • whether the applicant is eligible for assistance

  • what duties may be owed to them

If the local authority has reason to believe that the applicant is homeless, eligible and has a priority need they must provide interim accommodation.

The local authority owes the applicant the relief duty if they are satisfied that the applicant is homeless and eligible.

Who is legally threatened with homelessness?

Where an applicant makes a homelessness application on or after 3 April 2018, they are threatened with homelessness for the purposes of the Act if it is likely that they will become homeless within 56 days.[3]

A person is also threatened with homelessness if they have been given a valid section 21 notice in respect of their only accommodation, and the notice is due to expire within 56 days.[4]

Someone who made a homeless application before 3 April 2018 would only have been threatened with homelessness if they were likely to become homeless within 28 days.

Local authority's duties where someone may be threatened with homelessness

If a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant may be threatened with homelessness, it must make inquiries to confirm this.[5]

When the authority is satisfied that the applicant is threatened with homelessness, it must take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness. This duty applies regardless of any 'fault' on the applicant's part that may have led to the threat of homelessness.

The authority may take a flexible approach to taking action to prevent homelessness where the threatened homelessness is more than 56 days from the date the applicant approaches the authority.[6]

Lender notification of repossession proceedings

Under rule 55.10 of the Civil Procedure Rules, mortgage lenders must notify local authority housing departments that repossession proceedings on a property in its area have begun.

Non-statutory guidance states that the notification from the lender 'can provide a useful trigger for the engagement of a wide range of local and national services designed to prevent homelessness'.[7]

Household members who are disregarded

If the applicant is subject to immigration control, any household member who is a person from abroad who is ineligible for assistance is usually disregarded when determining whether the applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness.[8]

For example, in an application made by a refugee, any ineligible household members would be disregarded when assessing whether they were homeless because of overcrowding.

If the applicant is not subject to immigration control then any ineligible household members can be considered when assessing whether they are homeless or threatened with homelessness.[9] If the main housing duty is owed then there are special rules on how it can be discharged.

Last updated: 16 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    ss.175-177 Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018; chapter 6 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    s184(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [3]

    s.185(4) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.314 and Sch.15 Housing and Regeneration Act 2008; Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Commencement No. 1 and Saving Provisions) Order 2009 SI 2009/415 (C.28).

  • [4]

    s.175(4) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.1(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [5]

    s.175(5) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.1(3) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [6]

    s.184(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [7]

    para 11.6 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [8]

    para 8 Lender notification of repossession proceedings to local authorities: Non-statutory guidance for local housing authorities, MHCLG, September 2009.

  • [9]

    s.185(4) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.314 and Sch.15 Housing and Regeneration Act 2008; Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Commencement No. 1 and Saving Provisions) Order 2009 SI 2009/415 (C.28).