Priority need of homeless older or elderly people

A person has a priority need if they are vulnerable because of old age. 

This content applies to England

Determining vulnerability due to old age

A person has a priority need if they are vulnerable due to old age.[1] This also includes an applicant who resides with or is reasonably expected to reside with a person who is vulnerable because of their age. 

The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that old age alone is not sufficient for the applicant to be deemed vulnerable. The local authority should consider whether the applicant's old age is a factor that makes them less able to manage the effects of homelessness than someone less old.

Local authorities should not use a fixed age beyond which vulnerability is automatic; each case must be considered on the individual circumstances.[2]

Case law

The Supreme Court has clarified that:[3]

  • vulnerability in this context concerns the provision of housing and means the applicant's vulnerability if they are not provided with accommodation, more than general need for care and support under community care legislation 

  • when determining vulnerability, all of the applicant's characteristics and difficulties must be considered cumulatively, rather than each individually

  • the public sector equality duty complements the duty under the homelessness legislation and specifically requires local authorities to look into whether an applicant's protected characteristic such as age makes them more vulnerable as a result

  • care and support from statutory bodies and/or family members available to the applicant can be taken into consideration by the authority when determining whether the applicant is or not vulnerable

Restricted cases

Someone who lives with an older person who is vulnerable, or who might reasonably be expected to reside with them, is also in priority need and could therefore be the applicant if necessary. However, where the applicant lives with an older person who is a person from abroad, the older person may be disregarded in a priority need assessment, or the applicant may be owed a 'restricted' duty.

The decision depends on the immigration status of the applicant and the household member.

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: 17 March 2021


  • [1]

    s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    para 8.24 Homelessness Code of Guidance , MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [3]

    Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30.