Accommodation in an emergency

Different types of accommodation options for people in an emergency. 

This content applies to England

Suitability of emergency options

Emergency accommodation is housing that can be accessed very quickly, such as bed and breakfast, hotels or hostels.

The suitability of each emergency housing option varies depending on the person's housing status, needs and preferences and whether the person has any money to pay for housing.

Options available depend upon the types of emergency accommodation available in the local area.

Help from social services for households with children

Social services departments have the power to make payments to prevent children becoming homeless, and as an alternative to taking them into care. This might include money for a hostel or for a deposit on a flat.

The local authority may have a duty to accommodate households with children.

Help for young people and care leavers

Local authorities have duties to young people and care leavers in housing need.

Staying in a hostel or shelter

There are a variety of different types and sizes of hostels run by public and private sector landlords and voluntary organisations.

Staying with friends

If a person can stay with friends or relatives in the short-term they may find this the least stressful emergency option.

Staying with friends or family can also give the client time to explore other accommodation options, and could allow them to save up money for private rented accommodation, or go on a hostel waiting list.

Homelessness help from a local authority

A person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness can make a homeless application to a local authority.

If the local authority has reason to believe the person is homeless, eligible and has a priority need then they have a duty to provide interim (emergency) accommodation.

From 5 July 2021, a person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse automatically has a priority need. The abuse must meet the definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.[1]

Women's refuges

Women's refuges

Women who have to leave home because of domestic violence or threats may want to stay at a refuge.

Women's refuges are usually ordinary houses shared by women and children. Women do not have to go to a refuge in their own area and the address is kept secret to protect women from violent partners.

Refuge staff can help with claiming benefits and finding other housing.

Women with male children may find it difficult to get into a refuge, especially if the children are over twelve years of age.

Women who need a place in a refuge can contact Refuge and Women's Aid for further information. 

Men's refuges

There is limited provision for men experiencing violence. Men's Advice Line runs a national helpline for male victims of domestic violence.

Bed and breakfast hotels

These are privately run hotels and are usually more expensive than hostels. They usually ask for payment in advance. There may be no cooking facilities and some do not allow residents to stay in their rooms during the day. Some do not accept people who are claiming housing benefit.

Local advice centres or the local authority may have lists of bed and breakfast hotels; they are also listed in the Yellow Pages.

Backpackers hostels and youth hostels

Backpackers hostels and youth hostels are aimed at people travelling on a budget. They can sometimes be a useful short-term option for clients with some money.

They are usually found in larger cities and in areas popular with tourists. Most have no age criteria, including many youth hostels.

Many have vacancies on the same day, and can offer basic dormitory accommodation, often including breakfast.

Hostels may request proof that the client is a backpacker, for example, an overseas passport or travel documents.

Local tourist information offices should have information on backpackers hostels and youth hostels.

Emergency help for people from abroad

People from abroad may be able to get help from social services in the form of accommodation, assistance in kind, vouchers and, in rare cases, cash.

People from abroad without dependent children may be able to get this help under community care legislation, however they will need to have an urgent need for care and attention which is not being met in any other way.

Destitution alone is not sufficient grounds to show a need for care and attention.[2] Other factors, such as disability, age or other special circumstances, combined with destitution, will need to be evident. People from abroad are unlikely to be accepted by hostels unless they are entitled to benefits.

EU nationals who are rough sleepers may be able to get support to return to their home country.


Squatting in a residential property is a criminal offence.[3] Squatting in commercial properties is not generally a criminal offence.

Advice on squatting is available from the Advisory Service for Squatters.

Last updated: 19 March 2021


  • [1]

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

  • [2]

    s.55(1) Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

  • [3]

    s.144 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.