Who has a priority need when applying as homeless

People who have a priority need for accommodation when making a homeless application to a local authority.

This content applies to England

What is priority need?

A local authority only has a duty to provide accommodation under a homeless application to someone who has or might have a priority need.

Some people are automatically in priority need. For example, if someone has dependant children living with them.

Other people are only in priority need if they or someone they live with is vulnerable for some additional reason. For example, someone who is vulnerable because of a health condition. The local authority must decide if the person is significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person would be if they were homeless.

Who automatically has a priority need

A person automatically has a priority need if they:[1]

  • are at risk of domestic abuse

  • are a pregnant woman or live with a pregnant woman

  • have dependant children living with them or who are reasonably expected to live with them

  • are 16 or 17 years old and are not looked after by social services

  • are 18, 19 or 20 years old and spent time in care while between 16 and 18

  • lost their accommodation because of an emergency such as a flood, fire or other disaster

Domestic abuse

A person has a priority need if they are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse.

The person does not need to have already left their accommodation. Someone is homeless if their accommodation is unreasonable to continue to occupy because it is likely this will lead to domestic abuse against them or someone in the household.

Find out more about priority need due to domestic abuse.

Pregnancy

A pregnant woman, and anyone that lives with her or is reasonably be expected to live with her, has a priority need. This is the case regardless of how long she has been pregnant.

Find out more about priority need due to pregnancy.

Dependent children

Someone has a priority need if they have dependent children living with them or who might reasonably be expected to live with them. This can include 18 year olds who are in full time education and are still dependent on the person applying as homeless.

Find out more about priority need due having dependent children.

16 and 17 year olds

Someone aged 16 or 17 years old has a priority need unless they are looked after by social services under the Children Act 1989. Social services have the primary responsibility for providing support if the person is a child in need owed a duty under section 20 of the Act or is a `relevant child’ who has spent time in care.

Find out more about priority need of 16 and 17 year olds.

18, 19 and 20 year olds who have spent time in care

Someone under 21 who was looked after, accommodated or fostered by a local authority while aged 16 or 17 has a priority need. They are not in priority need if they are a relevant student.

Find out more about priority need of people who have been in care.

Someone who is homeless because of fire, flood or another disaster

A person has a priority need if they are homeless because of an emergency, such as a flood, fire or other disaster.

The event that led to the person being homeless must be both an emergency and a disaster. An unlawful eviction might be an emergency but it is not a disaster, and does not mean a person has a priority need.[2] Where someone's mobile home was removed from its pitch, this was an emergency that meant the person could have a priority need.[3]

A local authority making a demolition order is not considered a disaster.[4] A person has a priority need under this provision if they reside in a building subject to a magistrates' order requiring occupants to be removed under the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1984.[5]

Priority need of vulnerable people

A person has a priority need if they or someone they live with is vulnerable because of:[6]

  • old age

  • a mental health condition

  • being a disabled person

  • some other special reason

Other special reasons could include if someone is vulnerable as a result of being victim or trafficking or modern slavery, or because they are a young person without support.

A person also has a priority need if they are vulnerable because they:[7]

  • were in the regular armed forces

  • have been in prison

  • are over 21 and spent time in care

  • left their accommodation because of violence or threats of violence

A person might be vulnerable for one of these reasons or a combination of them.

Assessing vulnerability

The local authority must assess whether the person is significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person in need of accommodation and would be likely to suffer greater harm in the same situation.[8]

Find out more about how local authorities assess if someone is vulnerable.

Find out how to support a vulnerable person with our guide on advising on vulnerability and priority need.

Priority need and applications by people from abroad

Some household members are not taken into account when a local authority assesses if someone from outside the UK has a priority need.

If the person making the application is subject to immigration control, the local authority must disregard any household member who is not eligible for assistance based on their immigration status. Subject to immigration control means the person requires leave to remain in the UK.

For example, in an application made by a refugee, the local authority must ignore any ineligible household members when deciding if the person has a priority need.

Use our homeless rights checker for a quick answer on whether someone is likely to be eligible based on their immigration status.

Ineligible household members are taken into account if the person applying is not subject to immigration control. For example, if the applicant is a British or Irish citizen. The authority must consider all household members when it decides if the person has a priority need.[9] If the local authority owes the person the main housing duty, there are special rules on how it can be discharged.  

Local authority duties where someone might have a priority need

Some local authority duties apply regardless of whether the person has a priority need. These include the duties to prevent and relieve homelessness.

The local authority only has a duty to actually arrange accommodation if the person has or might have a priority need.

Emergency accommodation

A local authority must secure interim accommodation if it has reason to believe a person might:[10]

  • be homeless

  • be eligible based on their immigration status

  • have a priority need

The local authority does not need immediate proof or evidence to have a reason to believe someone might be in priority need. The information the person provides at an initial interview can be enough.

If the local authority refuses to provide interim accommodation, this can be challenged through through judicial review in the High Court. The person should get advice and representation from a solicitor. Challenging a local authority through judicial review is in scope for legal aid.

Long term accommodation

The local authority owes the person the main housing duty if it is satisfied they have a priority need and are not intentionally homeless. The duty normally arises after 56 days have passed if the authority is unsuccessful in helping the person secure accommodation under the relief duty.

The local authority must secure suitable temporary accommodation until the duty is discharged, usually through an offer of more settled accommodation.

Challenging a decision that a person is not in priority need

If the local authority decides after carrying out inquiries that a person does not have a priority need, it must provide that decision in writing. The person can request an internal review of that decision. The request for a review must be made within 21 days of being notified of the decision. Challenging a local authority through an internal review is in scope for legal aid.

Table: Categories of priority need

Automatic priority need

PersonLegal reference
A pregnant woman or any person living with a pregnant womans.189(1)(a) Housing Act 1996
Someone with children who live with them or who might reasonably be expected to reside with them.s.189(1)(b) Housing Act 1996
16 and 17 year olds who are not being looked after by social services under the Children Act 1989art. 3 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002
18 – 20 year olds (other than some students) who at any time between 16 and 18 were, but are no longer, looked after, accommodated or fosteredart.4 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002
Someone who lost their accommodation as a result of an emergency (e.g. fire or flood or other disaster)s.189(1)(d) Housing Act 1996
Someone who is homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuses.189(1)(e) Housing Act 1996

Priority need if the person or someone they live with is vulnerable

PersonLegal reference
A person who is vulnerable because of old age (or someone who lives with them)s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996
A person who is vulnerable because of a mental health condition (or someone who lives with them)s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996
A person who is vulnerable because of a physical or mental disability (or someone who lives with them)s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996
A person who is vulnerable because of another special reason (or someone who lives with them)s.189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996

Priority need if the person is vulnerable

PersonLegal reference
Someone who is vulnerable because they were in the regular armed forcesart. 5 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002
Someone who is vulnerable because they spent time in prisonart. 5 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002
Someone over 21 who is vulnerable because they spent time in care while they were 16 or 17art. 5 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002
Someone who is vulnerable because they left their accommodation because of violence or threats of violenceart. 6 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002

Template letter: Explain why someone is vulnerable

A person making a homeless application can use this template to explain why they are likely to have a priority need because they are vulnerable.

The letter can be copied into an email to send to the local authority.


(Use the subject: Priority need for homeless help)

I have already made a homeless application under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

The information below gives you reason to believe that I qualify for emergency housing under section 188 of the Housing Act while you make enquiries into my situation.

I want you to help with emergency housing straight away as I have nowhere to stay. I do not have any support from family or friends.

I am vulnerable and in priority need because of (include anything that applies):

  • disability and health conditions

  • having been in prison, care, the armed forces, asylum support housing

I am at much greater risk if I am on the streets because of this.

I have experienced (for example, violence, harassment or exploitation while homeless).

My disability and health conditions are (give details of any physical or learning disabilities, mental health conditions and other health conditions).

My medication is (give details of your medication, how it must be stored and side effects).

I use mobility aids (give details).

I get support from (give details of treatment or other help from your doctor, mental health team or support worker and how this affects you).

I am eligible for help because (write your nationality or immigration status).


You can also download the template to send as an email attachment or by post:

Last updated: 14 February 2023

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.189(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    R v Bristol CC ex p Bradic (1995) 27 HLR 584, CA.

  • [3]

    Higgs v Brighton and Hove City Council [2003] EWCA Civ 895.

  • [4]

    Noble v South Herefordshire DC (1985) 17 HLR 80, CA; R v Walsall MBC ex p Price [1996] CLY 3068, QBD.

  • [5]

    s.39 Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1984.

  • [6]

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

  • [7]

    art. 4 -6 The Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002.

  • [8]

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

  • [9]

    s.185(4) Housing Act 1996.

  • [10]

    s.188(1) Housing Act 1996.