Covid-19: Homelessness

Emergency measures introduced to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that relate to homelessness.

This content applies to England

Homeless applications

People who are homeless or threatened with becoming homeless can apply as homeless to their local authority. There may be temporary safety measures in place but authorities must not refuse to accept homeless applications.

A refusal to accept a homeless application is challengeable by judicial review and legal aid may be available.

Court and tribunal hearings are still taking place during the pandemic but additional measures are in place. 

Priority need during the pandemic

The Homelessness code of guidance states that local authorities should consider the vulnerability of applicants with underlying health conditions in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Code refers to the list of conditions in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, 30 December 2020.[1]

Local authorities are also advised to consider the vulnerability of people with a history of rough sleeping in the context of the pandemic.[2] This might be particularly relevant in areas where there is a high number of cases of Covid-19.

Regulations in force before 24 February 2022 provided a definition of who might be more vulnerable to Covid-19 that could be relevant when assessing priority need. These regulations have now been revoked.[3]

Suitability of accommodation under homelessness law

Any accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation must be suitable.

The High Court held that where a local authority had provided self-contained accommodation to a homeless applicant who was particularly vulnerable to contracting Covid-19, it was under no obligation to provide white goods and a bed. In this case, the claimant was provided with a mattress and a microwave oven but argued that it was insufficient to enable him to self-isolate. The Court dismissed this argument and held that the authority had acted lawfully.[4]

Provisions for people sleeping rough

Ministerial update: 'Protect and Vaccinate'

On 20 December 2021, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing wrote to the local authorities in England to provide an update on the measures introduced to deal with the Omicron variant, including additional funding for authorities to provide accommodation for people sleeping rough. The letter advises that self-contained accommodation has been one of the most immediate ways to prevent transmission of the virus.

The letter reiterates the public health and emergency powers that are available to local authorities to accommodate rough sleepers who are not eligible for homelessness assistance due to their immigration status.[5]

Previously, in 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.

In the letter dated 28 May 2020, the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing requested that when arranging move-on accommodation for people sleeping rough, local authorities:

  • explore sustainable options, including through partnerships with housing associations and in the private rented sector

  • encourage people sleeping rough to stay with friends or family, ‘where appropriate and possible’

  • where no move-on possibilities exist, provide short-term accommodation while looking into long-term options.

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

On 5 November 2020, the government announced an additional scheme to ensure vulnerable people, including those sleeping rough, are protected during the period of national restrictions and throughout the winter. The 'Protect Programme' is to run alongside the 'Everyone In' campaign. According to the press release, the top ten areas to receive the additional funding for the 'Protect Programme' are: London, City of Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Cornwall, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Manchester, Salford, Oxford, Leicester, and Birmingham.

'Everyone in' accommodation and the shared accommodation rate

Universal credit and housing benefit claimants under the age of 35 may qualify for an exemption from the shared accommodation rate if they have been accommodated in a hostel, a re-purposed hotel or a B&B under the 'Everyone In' initiative.

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.

Additional resources for advisers

Groundswell has developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. 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).

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.

Accommodation and support for people with no recourse to public funds during the Covid-19 pandemic

In R (on the application of Ncube) v Brighton and Hove City Council, the High Court has held that during the coronavirus pandemic local authorities can lawfully accommodate people with no recourse to public funds under section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 and section 2B of the National Health Service Act 2006.[6] The law allows local authorities to provide accommodation to people in their area, including those with NRPF, where there is an emergency or a disaster that involves danger to life, and to take such steps as they consider appropriate to improve their health. The High Court has held that the Covid-19 pandemic meets the definition of an emergency under section 138 of the 1972 Act. 

Ministerial update: 'Protect and Vaccinate'

On 20 December 2021, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing wrote to the local authorities in England to provide an update on the safety measures introduced to deal with the Omicron variant, including additional funding to provide accommodation for people sleeping rough. The letter asks that local authorities use the funding to provide appropriate accommodation for people sleeping rough and include ineligible people from abroad in their planning, exhausting all options available within the law to support them.

Previously, in a letter dated 26 March 2020, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness stated that one of the principles local authorities should adopt during the pandemic is to use alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds, who require shelter and other forms of support. On 28 May 2020, the Minister confirmed that the NRPF condition continues to apply and advised local authorities to use own judgment when deciding what support can be lawfully provided to people with NRPF.

The charity No Recourse to Public Funds Network has produced a comprehensive guide to options available to people with NRPF who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The guide includes information on access to the NHS for treatment related to COVID-19 and an overview of benefits which are not classed as 'public funds', and may be available to those with NRPF.

People seeking advice on how the pandemic has affected their immigration status, should be signposted to the Home Office's coronavirus service, or advised to contact a solicitor or a certified immigration adviser.

UKVI asylum support

The Refugee Council has information on changes to asylum support as a result of the pandemic.

In one case, the High Court found that the Home Office’s failure to consider the need to communicate with friends and family during the Covid-19 pandemic for the purpose of support under section 95 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was unlawful. The Court held that the pandemic amounted to exceptional circumstances and confirmed that communication and travel were essential living needs for the purpose of asylum support.[7]

Fleeing domestic abuse

A person must be treated as homeless if it is not reasonable for them to continue to occupy accommodation because it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence or other violence directed against the applicant, or someone who lives with or might reasonably be expected to live with them.[8] It means that people in this situation can make a homeless application to the local authority.

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

Government guidance for people fleeing or experiencing domestic abuse explains how to get help during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance has been translated into different languages.

Last updated: 25 March 2022

Footnotes

  • [1]

    para 8.45 Homelessness Code of Guidance , MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    para 8.46 Homelessness Code of Guidance , MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [3]

    reg 1(4)The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/750, revoked by reg 2 Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation etc.) (Revocation) (England) Regulations 2022/161 see also Bankole-Jones v Watford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3100 (Admin), paras 71-77 and others.

  • [4]

    R (on the application of Escott) v Chichester DC [2020] EWHC 1687 (Admin).

  • [5]

    s.2B National Health Service Act 2006 and associated statutory guidance published in accordance with s.73B; s.138 Local Government Act 1972; see R (Ncube) v Brighton and Hove City Council (2021) EWHC 578 (Admin).

  • [6]

    R (on the application of Ncube) v Brighton and Hove CC [2021] EWHC 578 (Admin); see: s. 138 Local Government Act 1972 and s. 2B National Health Service Act 2006.

  • [7]

    JM v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] EWHC 2514 (Admin).

  • [8]

    s.177(1) Housing Act 1996.