Priority need if homeless due to violence or abuse

A person has a priority need if they are homeless as a result of domestic abuse, or they are vulnerable as a result of leaving their home because of violence or threats of violence.

This content applies to England

Homeless due to domestic abuse

From 5 July 2021, people who are homeless as a result of domestic abuse have automatic priority need if the abuse meets the definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.[1] They do not need to meet the vulnerability test.[2] This amended priority need category applies to decisions made on or after 5 July 2021.

Definition of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is defined as abusive behaviour towards another person who is personally connected to the perpetrator.[3]The perpetrator and the person being abused must be aged 16 or over for the definition to apply.[4]

Behaviour is classed as abusive if it consists of:[5]

  • physical or sexual abuse

  • violent or threatening behaviour

  • controlling or coercive behaviour

  • economic abuse

  • psychological, emotional or other abuse

It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

Abusive behaviour can be classed as domestic abuse even if the conduct is directed at another person, for example the child of the personally connected person.[6]

Review decisions

Where a person requests a review of a decision made before 5 July 2021 that they are not in priority need, the reviewing officer must consider the law as it stands at the date of the review. [7] If the applicant meets the definition of a person homeless as a result of domestic abuse they will have a priority need.

In appeals to the County Court, the court's role is limited to considering whether the review officer has reached a lawful decision. If a review decision is quashed, any new review decision must be based on the law as it stands at the date of the review.

Guidance on domestic abuse priority need

Chapter 21 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance contains guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

Housing authorities are required to secure that accommodation is available for occupation for homeless applicants who have a priority need due to domestic violence.[8]

Domestic violence is not limited to physical violence or confined to instances within the home and could consist of an incident or pattern of incidents.[9] Housing authorities must follow the cross-government definition of domestic abuse set out in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.[10]

Identifying abuse

Housing authorities should have policies in place to identify and respond to domestic abuse, including referring for help and support. The housing authority should be consistently represented at the local multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC).[11]

Homelessness inquiries

Housing authorities can seek further evidence where it is available and appropriate to do so. They should not approach the alleged perpetrator. With consent from the applicant the authority may ask for information from friends and relatives, social services, health professionals and the police. Authorities should not have a blanket approach towards domestic abuse which requires corroborative or police evidence to be provided.[12]

Priority need of people homeless due to violence

An applicant has a priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having had to leave their accommodation because of violence from another person, or threats of violence which are likely to be carried out.[13] The applicant has to have actually left the accommodation to come under this category. Different rules apply to people who are homeless due to domestic abuse from 5 July 2021.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that the initial assessment usually makes clear whether violence or the threat of violence is the cause of the applicant leaving.[14] The local authority must consider whether they are vulnerable as a result. 

Definition of violence

To come within the priority need category of vulnerable as a result of ceasing to occupy accommodation by reason of violence, etc, the violence does not have to have been be domestic violence; all forms of violence motivated by different factors must be considered. If the violence is not domestic violence, the vulnerability test must also be met for the applicant to be in priority need.

Violence includes physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of physical or psychological harm.[15] From 5 July 2021, domestic violence has a different definition.[16]

The Court of Appeal has held that when assessing whether threats of violence are likely to be carried out, authorities must only take into account the probability of violence, and not actions that the applicant could take such as injunctions.[17]

Applications made before 3 April 2018

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: 7 July 2021


  • [1]

    Reg 2 The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (Commencement No.1 and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/797.

  • [2]

    s.189(e) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.78(5) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [3]

    s.1(2)(b) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [4]

    s.1(2)(a) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [5]

    s.1(3) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [6]

    s.1(5) Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [7]

    Mohamed v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2001] UKHL 57

  • [8]

    para 21.2 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [9]

    para 21.3 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [10]

    para 21.5 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [11]

    para 21.12 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [12]

    para 21.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [13]

    Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 SI 2002/2051.

  • [14]

    para 8.36 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [15]

    Yemshaw v Hounslow LBC [2011] UKSC 3; Hussain v Waltham Forest LBC [2015] EWCA Civ 14.

  • [16]

    s.1 Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

  • [17]

    Bond v Leicester CC [2001] EWCA Civ 1544.