Local authority emergency help and housing

A person may be able to access accommodation by approaching their local housing authority or social services. 

This content applies to England

Help from the local authority when homeless

Someone who does not have the right, or is unable, to stay in their present accommodation can make a homeless application to a local authority. 

A homelessness application can be made to any local authority.

Outside normal working hours, the local authority should have an emergency telephone service to a duty officer, often a social worker.[1] The emergency telephone number should be publicised in the local authority's area. The local police should also have the contact number.

Use our homeless rights checker to find out if someone is likely to be eligible for assistance based on their immigration or residence status.

Emergency accommodation pending inquiries

If a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have a priority need, it must make accommodation available while it makes inquiries and decides what duty (if any) is owed.[2]

A person may have a priority need for a number of reasons, for example if they have children or are pregnant, are a care leaver under 21, or are vulnerable.

From 5 July 2021, a person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse automatically has a priority need.

Local authority advice duties

Every local authority has a general duty to provide advice and information about avoiding homelessness to anyone in its district.[3]

Many single people and couples without dependent children are not considered to be in priority need. If they are homeless or threatened with homelessness the local authority has a duty to give them advice and assistance in any attempts they make to find accommodation.[4]

Help from social services 

People who are not entitled to assistance under the homelessness legislation may still be able to get help from the social services department if there are children or vulnerable people in the household.

Help may be provided under the Children Act 1989, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Care Act 2014, for example if a person:

  • has been found to be intentionally homeless

  • is not eligible for assistance

Before approaching social services, applicants should get advice on whether their application has been dealt with correctly. For example, if a person has been found to be intentionally homeless, the authority should have informed the applicant in writing of its decision and the reasons for it. The reasons given should have been investigated. For example, a person who has been deemed intentionally homeless may have since had a change of circumstances, leading to a fresh incidence of homelessness, which may therefore entitle them to reapply as homeless, or the person may have been found intentionally homeless even though they failed to pay the rent through no fault of their own.

A person who has been given a decision that they are intentionally homeless may have the right to request a review or a statutory appeal.

Young people

Most young people are entitled to apply as homeless to the local authority.

However some are also entitled to assistance from social services, and are likely to be referred. This includes 'children in need', and most 16  and 17 year old care leavers who have spent 13 weeks or more in care since the age of 14, and who have been in care at some time while 16 or 17.[5] Social services has a duty to meet the housing costs of these groups.[6] They can also provide assistance to some older care leavers up to the age of 24.

Older and vulnerable people

People who are vulnerable due to age, illness or disability who are not entitled to help from the housing department may be entitled to assistance under community care legislation.[7]

The courts have held that this provision should be used as a last resort, and can only be used where there is a need for care that is not being met in any other way.

People from abroad

Homeless people from abroad (other than asylum seekers) are generally excluded from the benefits system and the homelessness and allocations legislation because of their immigration status. They are therefore not eligible for help from the local authority housing department. This will be the case even if they have dependent children. However, in some cases social services will still have a duty to accommodate them under community care legislation and, if they have a child, under the Children Act 1989.

The form of help provided by social services will depend on the person's circumstances and could include accommodation, vouchers, assistance in kind or, in exceptional cases, cash.

Asylum seekers

Asylum seekers are not entitled to any help from the local authority housing department, as most are entitled to assistance from UKVI.

UKVI support can be denied to those who do not claim asylum 'as soon as is reasonably practicable' after arriving in this country,[8] unless they fit into certain groups of people, such as those with dependent children.

Support under the Care Act 2014 is available to those where their need for care and attention has not arisen solely as a result of destitution and/or its effects.

Asylum seekers without any form of support could be directed to local charities, which may be able to provide practical assistance, and should be advised to consult a solicitor as they may have grounds to challenge the decision in judicial review proceedings on the basis that their human rights have been breached.

Last updated: 18 March 2021


  • [1]

    para 18.2 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    s.188(1) Housing Act 1996

  • [3]

    s.179 Housing Act 1996.

  • [4]

    ss.190(3) and 192 Housing Act 1996, as amended by Homelessness Act 2002.

  • [5]

    s.23A Children Act 1989, as amended by s.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

  • [6]

    ss.23B and C Children Act 1989, as amended by s.2 Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

  • [7]

    Care Act 2014.

  • [8]

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