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Suitability of hostels, refuges and emergency accommodation

Suitability requirements of emergency homelessness accommodation secured by a local authority in hostels, domestic abuse refuges and to Gypsies and Travellers.

This content applies to England

Suitability requirements of hostels and refuges

Hostel accommodation can be suitable only as emergency accommodation for short periods. This applies to refuges, nightshelters and direct access hostels. Short term crisis accommodation should not be treated as suitable and reasonable to continue to occupy in the medium or long term.[1]

Some hostels are subject to additional suitability requirements for bed and breakfast and houses in multiple occupation.

Young people and families with children

Vulnerable young people or families with children should not be accommodated alongside vulnerable adults.

An authority should take into account the fact that some hostels are designed to meet only short-term needs. Longer-term supported accommodation might be more suitable for young people, including those leaving care or custody, and adults who need a period of stability and individual support.[2]

Victims of domestic abuse

A person is considered to be homeless if they are staying in a domestic violence refuge.

Women's refuges are a safe haven for those fleeing domestic violence and should not be treated as places which it is reasonable to continue to occupy.[3]

Refuges should normally be used only as a temporary measure and only for people who wish to stay in one. The local authority should work with the refuge provider to decide how long a victim of domestic abuse needs to stay in a refuge before other accommodation is provided. Refuges should be used for the minimum time before securing suitable accommodation elsewhere.

A refuge might be the most appropriate accommodation option for some victims of abuse who have severe needs and/or highly dangerous perpetrators.[4]

Victims of modern slavery

The Code of guidance states that, where there is no option but to accommodate a victim of modern slavery in a hostel or bed and breakfast, the accommodation might need to be gender specific and to have appropriate security.

The authority must also take into account any risk of violence or racial harassment.[5]

Suitability requirements of emergency offers to Gypsies and Travellers

The provision of land on which Gypsies and Travellers would be able and willing to station their caravans would discharge a local authority's duty to provide suitable accommodation.

If there is no land available on which to lawfully station a caravan, the local authority can provide 'bricks and mortar' accommodation, even if the homeless person has a 'cultural aversion' to this form of accommodation.[6]

It is outside of the scope of a homelessness review into the suitability of an offer of 'bricks and mortar' accommodation to a Gypsy or Traveller family to conduct an inquiry into the planning policies of, and the adequacy (or otherwise) of site provision by, the authority.[7]

Suitability requirements of mobile homes

The Code of Guidance states that mobile homes can be used as emergency accommodation. The local authority should give careful consideration to a mobile home's suitability for the homeless person, taking into account their needs and the conditions and facilities on the site.

Caravans designed for short-term holiday use are not suitable.[8]

Suitability of a person's current home

A local authority could find that although a person is homeless, their current accommodation is suitable for them to remain in the short term.[9]

For example, a person's accommodation could be not reasonable to continue to occupy, but the same accommodation could be suitable as interim accommodation. This is sometimes referred to as being 'homeless at home'.

A person might prefer this to moving into alternative accommodation in the short term.

The authority should seek agreement with the person and continue to work under the relief duty to secure other accommodation.

Minimum standards of repair and safety

When deciding whether any accommodation offered in discharge of homelessness duties is suitable the local authority must consider legal requirements:[10]

As a minimum, authorities should ensure that any accommodation is free of category 1 hazards,[11] and is fit for human habitation.[12]

An authority is not under a duty to carry out a full inspection and a hazard assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System before deciding if accommodation offered to a person is suitable, even when the person complaints about noise and its conditions. The authority is entitled to decide on the basis of evidence already available to them whether an inspection is necessary.[13]

Suitability over time

The suitability of accommodation is to be looked at over time and depends on the person's individual circumstances.[14]

The suitability of accommodation can change over time. Somewhere might be suitable for occupation for a short period while the authority is looking for alternative accommodation. The same accommodation might not be suitable if it is to be occupied for a longer period.[15] This does not mean that there is a general lower standard of suitability for temporary accommodation.[16]

Where a local authority’s review letter said that after considering the relevant law, guidance, and the person’s circumstances, it had found the temporary accommodation was unsuitable, the authority could not later argue that the decision was to be read as meaning the accommodation was suitable in the short-term.[17]

In one case, a local authority identified in an applicant's housing register application that the household needed a three bedroom level-access property, but they remained in two bedroom temporary accommodation with stairs for another 14 months, and for three years and eight months in total. The authority was found to be in breach of the main housing duty as any short or medium term for which the accommodation could have been suitable had passed.[18]

Reasonableness over time

Reasonable to continue to occupy is to be looked at over time. A person can be statutorily homeless and it could be reasonable for them to remain where they are for the short or medium term, while the local authority takes steps to secure other accommodation. How long is reasonable for them to remain depends on the person's particular circumstances.[19]

The local authority should look ahead to the foreseeable future as well as the present situation. If the accommodation is unreasonable to occupy over the medium to long term the authority must consider how long in the short term it is reasonable for the person to remain.[20]

How to challenge suitability decisions

It is usually in the person’s best interests to accept the offer and request a suitability review.

A person can request an internal review of an authority's offer of temporary or permanent accommodation.

A person does not have a statutory right to an internal review of the suitability of interim accommodation offered by a local authority while carrying out homelessness inquiries. The suitability of interim accommodation can only be challenged by way of judicial review.

Find out more about challenges to accommodation suitability.

Last updated: 31 March 2023


  • [1]

    para 6.39(b) Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    paras 16.33 to 16.39 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [3]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others: Moran V Manchester CC [2009] UKHL 36.

  • [4]

    paras 21.35 to 21.37 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018;

  • [5]

    para 25.21 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [6]

    Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC [2004] EWCA Civ 925; Sheridan and others v Basildon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335; Slattery v Basildon BC [2014] EWCA Civ 30.

  • [7]

    Sheridan and others v Basildon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335; Slattery v Basildon BC [2014] EWCA Civ 30.

  • [8]

    para 16.45 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [9]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others: Moran V Manchester CC [2009] UKHL 36; Temur v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 877.

  • [10]

    s.210(1) Housing Act 1996; para 17.11 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [11]

    para 17.27 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [12]

    R v Exeter CC ex parte Gliddon and Draper (1984) 14 HLR 103, QBD.

  • [13]

    Firoozmand v Lambeth LBC [2015] EWCA Civ 952.

  • [14]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others [2009] UKHL 36; Temur v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 877.

  • [15]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others [2009] UKHL 36; Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57; Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC [2005] HLR 1; R (on the application of Elkundi & Ors) v Birmingham City Council [2022] EWCA Civ 601; Coleman v Harrow LBC, 4 May 2023, Administrative Court, London, David Pittaway KC (unreported).

  • [16]

    see, for example Anon v Lewisham LBC, Central London County Court, 5 July 2018 (non-binding County Court case).

  • [17]

    R (M) v Newham LBC [2020] EWHC 327 (Admin).

  • [18]

    Jaberi, R (On the Application Of) v City of Westminster (Re Housing Act 1996) [2023] EWHC 1045 (Admin).

  • [19]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others: Moran V Manchester CC [2009] UKHL 36; Temur v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 877.

  • [20]

    Safi v Sandwell BC [2018] EWCA Civ 2876.