Support for rough sleepers

Advice and support when a person's only immediate option is sleeping out, and connecting rough sleepers with appropriate services.

This content applies to England

Support for rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic

On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness wrote to local authorities asking them to urgently accommodate all rough sleepers and focus on the provision of adequate facilities to enable people to adhere to the guidance on hygiene or isolation, including for those who are at risk of sleeping rough. Local authorities may use third party accommodation providers to comply with this request.

On 5 November 2020, the government announced a new scheme to ensure vulnerable people, including those sleeping rough, are protected during the period of national restrictions and throughout the winter. The 'Protect Programme' runs alongside the 'Everyone In' campaign.

Rough sleepers previously assisted under the 'Everyone In' initiative should continue to receive help under the Next Steps Accommodation Programme.

Guidance for hostels and night shelters

The guidance for hostels providing services to people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping contains information on safety measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections among residents and staff.

The guidance for night shelters contains information for night shelter managers, staff and residents.

Ineligible EEA nationals before 1 January 2021

Between 24 June and 31 December 2020 EEA nationals who were either jobseekers, within the meaning of EU law, or not economically active and exercising the three-month initial right to reside, and who were either sleeping rough or were temporarily placed in emergency accommodation to self-isolate could access limited level of state support under temporary powers given to local authorities.

These powers expired on 31 December 2020 when new immigration rules came into force.

Additional resources for advisers

People who are rough sleeping or living in temporary accommodation are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The charity Groundswell has developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, which will be updated as the situation evolves in line with national guidance, feedback from partners and ongoing consultation with people who are experiencing homelessness. They include templates and flyers on coronavirus that can be handed out to people who are rough sleeping or living in hostels or other temporary accommodation (with the key points translated into various languages).

Referring a rough sleeper to local services

Street Link is a national service which can be used by members of the public if they see people sleeping rough. Referrals can be made online at Street Link.

This service aims to connect rough sleepers with appropriate services, both statutory and voluntary. Local resources for rough sleepers vary greatly across the country. They can include day centres, contact and assessment teams, soup kitchens and soup runs. Details of such resources can often be obtained by contacting local authorities.

Street assessment teams

Street assessment teams are made up of workers who visit the areas where people are sleeping at night. The referral may come via a member of the public using the Streetlink hotline or online form, or could be a self-referral.

The street contact and assessment service is provided by various organisations, depending on the location.

In London, for example, the charity St Mungos provides the No Second Night Out service (NSNO) which can refer new rough sleepers to one of three 'hubs' for an emergency assessment. Where a person has not slept rough before, the outreach worker may make a referral to a service which aims to secure immediate accommodation, often in the area where the person was previously living, so that they do not have to sleep out again. Homeless Link provides information on reconnecting rough sleepers to areas where they have support or other connections.

Street assessment teams also give rough sleepers information about available health care, nightshelters and hostels, and other resources for homeless people. Some hostels and nightshelters will only take referrals from a contact and assessment team worker. Some outreach teams will work with people on a long-term basis.

The government has produced a map of local outreach teams across England, with their contact details.

Supported reconnection for people from abroad

Non UK national rough sleepers may be able to get assistance to reconnect with their home country through the Routes Home project. Routes Home makes travel arrangements for especially vulnerable returners, as well as ensuring that support will be in place when they arrive.

Day centres for homeless people

Day centres provide a warm, safe space for homeless people to come off the streets. Depending on the facilities available, they may be able talk to workers (some of whom may be specialists such as drug or alcohol workers), have a meal and a shower, do some laundry, to watch TV, or see a doctor or dentist.

In London, details of day centres are available on the websites of Homeless London, St Mungo's and Crisis.

Outside London, details of day centres are available on the websites of Homeless UK and St Mungo's.

Soup runs and soup kitchens

Soup runs are organised to provide food and drink on a nightly basis in various locations. Usually they are scheduled to arrive at particular locations at certain times, although times and locations often change.

Soup kitchens are often operated from church halls with scheduled opening hours. They distribute food and drinks.

Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)

Every local authority should have a severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) to assist people sleeping on the streets.

Support provided as part of SWEP should be accessible to everyone and the usual exclusion criteria such as eligibility for public funds or local connection should not apply.

During periods of severe weather local authorities usually provide facilities for people sleeping rough to minimise the risk of death from exposure to adverse weather conditions. There is no statutory definition of ‘severe weather’. It has been understood to include extreme cold, snow, rain, wind and heat. Local authorities are encouraged to be flexible about when assistance is necessary and follow the Met Office's UK weather warnings.

Homeless Link has published guidance for local authorities on designing and implementing appropriate SWEP support measures.

Cold weather and heatwaves

During periods of cold weather, local authorities usually implement SWEP as soon as the forecast indicates the temperature would fall to zero degrees Celsius or below for three consecutive nights. A local authority does not have to wait to implement measures until then.

For some local authorities, SWEP is triggered by Met Office Heat-Health alerts. A Level Three Alert activated London's SWEP in July 2022.

Practical advice for rough sleepers

A person has no other option but to sleep rough should be made aware that:

  • there are laws which allow the police to stop, search and arrest a person for sleeping on the street

  • it is better to try and find a sheltered place. To protect against the cold, they should wear layers of thin clothing, use a sleeping bag and blankets, and avoid sleeping directly on the ground by, for example, sleeping on layers of card

  • it is usually safer to sleep where there are other people around

  • there may be local places that are sympathetic to people staying there for shelter. Advisers could find out about these by talking to organisations who work with street homeless people

If a person is likely to be sleeping out for only one night, then they may prefer to find a place of safety to sit, rather than bedding down outside. For example, in larger cities, there may be all-night cafes where they can sit.

Dogs and pets

Most accommodation providers in the UK operate a 'no dogs or pets' policy, so homeless dog or pet owners cannot access shelter and support if they have a dog/pet and want to keep it with them. However, even the court of protection has recognised the importance of pets in the life of a vulnerable people.[1]

The Dogs Trust's Hope Project aims to help dogs whose owners are homeless or in housing crisis and works with hostels and housing providers to encourage them to accept people with dogs. The Project has developed an online directory of dog-friendly hostels searchable by region, town or postcode.

The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project gives details of organisations that provide temporary foster care for animals whose owners are fleeing domestic abuse or are unable to look after their pets while in hospital, care home or being made homeless.

Potential impact of rough sleeping on people's immigration status

From 1 December 2020, the Home Office may refuse permission to stay in the UK or cancel permission already given if a non-British national is sleeping rough.[2]

Rough sleeping in this context is defined as 'sleeping, or bedding down, in the open air (for example on the street or in doorways) or in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (for example sheds, car parks or stations)’.[3]

On 6 April 2021 the rule was amended to clarify that 'permission may only be refused or cancelled where a person has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour'. For more information, see the Home Office Grounds for refusal: rough sleeping guidance.

The rough sleeping rules affect:

  • rough sleepers who are in the UK on work, student, visitor or UK ancestry visa

  • some victims of human trafficking and slavery, depending what type of status they have been granted by the Home Office

  • EEA nationals who did not apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by the 30 June 2021 deadline

  • EEA nationals who arrive in the UK after 31 December 2020

The rough sleeping rules do not apply to:[4]

  • most asylum seekers and refugees

  • people with indefinite leave to remain (also known as settlement)

  • EEA nationals and their family members holding or applying for settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme

  • family members of EEA nationals applying under Appendix FM

  • those applying to stay in the UK under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

  • former members of the UK Armed Forces and their family members

Immigration advice is regulated, so people whose immigration status may be impacted by sleeping rough or who are worried about breaching the immigration rules should be signposted to an immigration adviser for specialist advice on their options.

Last updated: 15 July 2022


  • [1]

    Mrs P v Rochdale BC and another [2016] EWCOP B1.

  • [2]

    paras 9.21.1 and 9.21.2 Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules HC 813, 22 October 2020.

  • [3]

    see p. 22 Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules HC 813, 22 October 2020.

  • [4]

    paras 9.1.1 Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules HC 813, 22 October 2020.