Homelessness rights of family members of EEA nationals

When a family member of an EEA national might be eligible for homelessness help based on their status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Homeless applications by family members of EEA nationals

When a person makes a homeless application, the local authority must investigate whether they are eligible based on their immigration and residence status.

Someone from the EEA (European Economic Area) might be eligible if they have status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The EEA is the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Similar rules apply to Switzerland.

A person can also have status under the scheme as a family member of someone from the EEA. The person does not have to be from an EEA country. Being a family member can give the person rights to live and work in the UK that they otherwise might not have.

A family member of an EEA national might need to make a homeless application in their own right. For example, if there has been a relationship breakdown or a child has been asked to leave the family home.

Types of status under the Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme grants two types of status: 

  • settled status 

  • pre-settled status 

The deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme passed on 30 June 2021. Some family members might be able to apply to the Scheme after this date. A person can be eligible for homelessness help if they are waiting for a decision from the scheme.

Someone with questions about applying to the EU Settlement Scheme should get advice from a certified immigration advisor.

Who counts as a family member of an EEA national

Some EU rules are still used to determine who is and who is not eligible for help when homeless. Under these rules, family members are:

  • children, grandchildren, great grandchildren (all under 21 years old)

  • dependent children, grandchildren, great grandchildren of any age

  • dependent parents, grandparents, great grandparents

  • spouses and civil partners

  • extended family members with documentation from the Home Office confirming their relationship with the EEA national

Children include adoptive relationships. Spouses and civil partners continue to be classed as family members until divorce or dissolution of civil partnership is finalised, even if they are estranged and are not living together.

Extended family members

Extended family members are:

  • unmarried partners and their children under 18 years old

  • dependent children under 18 living with the EEA national and in their legal care that is not recognised as adoption in the UK

  • relatives of the EEA national or their spouse or civil partner who require their personal care on serious health grounds

  • dependent relatives of the EEA national who qualify for indefinite leave in the UK

Unmarried partners who split up are not classed as extended family members even if they have a valid document from the Home Office.

There is no legal definition of whether someone is dependent. The courts have decided that while dependency does not have to be financial, it must be material and related to the ‘basic necessities of life’. This includes food, clothing and shelter. Living at someone’s place rent-free and receiving irregular financial assistance is not enough on it's own for someone to be dependent.

People with settled status

A person with settled status is eligible for homelessness assistance if they are habitually resident in the Common Travel Area. This means that the person usually lives in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Settled status can be granted to someone who has been living in the UK as the family member of an EEA national for five years.

Family members who have settled status under EU Settlement Scheme are eligible for homelessness assistance in their own right. There is no requirement that they continue to be classed as a family member of an EEA national when they apply as homeless.

Family members with pre-settled status

Family members with pre-settled status mirror the eligibility of their EEA family member.

This means the person is eligible if at the time of their homeless application:

  • they are classed as a family member of an EEA national

  • the EEA national is eligible for homelessness assistance

Both conditions have to be met. If a person's family member is an ineligible EEA national, the person is unlikely to be eligible.

Read our explainer on when an EEA national is eligible for homelessness help.

In certain circumstances family members with pre-settled status can continue to be eligible if the EEA person dies, leaves the UK or there is a relationship breakdown. This mainly applies to family members who are not EEA nationals. 

Family members of returning British citizens

A person might have pre-settled status as a family member of a British citizen. British citizens returning to the UK from an EEA country can sometimes be treated as if they were EEA citizens. Their family members might be able to apply for status under the settlement scheme. This might be the case if:

  • they were residing in another EEA country with the British citizen

  • they are returning to the UK together or joining a British citizen who has already returned

  • the British citizen was using their free movement rights in the EEA country, for example worked or studied

This is sometimes referred to as the Surinder Singh route. From 1 January 2021 there is no requirement that the British citizen continues a free movement activity after returning to the UK for this right to exist.

The deadlines for the family member returning to the UK depend on when the relationship between the British citizen and the family member started. If the relationship started on or after 31 January 2020, the deadline for returning to the UK was 31 December 2020. If the relationship existed before 31 January 2020, the deadline for coming back to the UK was 29 March 2022.

Primary carers of children in education

A person might have pre-settled status if they are the parent or a primary carer of a child in education of an EEA worker of self employed person. The parent or primary carer does not have to be an EEA national.

They are eligible for homelessness assistance if:

  • one of the child’s parents is or was an EEA worker in the UK

  • the EEA worker and the child resided in the UK together at some point when the parent was employed

  • the child would not be able to continue compulsory education in the UK if the primary carer had to leave

Attending nursery is not compulsory education.

The parent or primary carer does not need to ‘mirror’ eligibility of EEA nationals in the same way other family members do. Someone who is no longer classed as a family member may be eligible as a primary carer of a child in education. For example, if the relationship between an EEA worker and their unmarried partner breaks down, the parent looking after the child can be eligible if the child is at school.

A primary carer of a child of an EEA worker without pre-settled status might be eligible if they are waiting for a decision from the scheme.

How to prove someone's status under the Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme is a digital-only service. This means no paper proof of immigration status is issued. There are no stamps in the person’s passport. A person with settled or pre-settled status can access the Home Office digital portal. They need access to their ID document, phone number and email address.  

This might make it difficult for some family members of EEA nationals to prove their status to a housing officer. For example, if they had to leave their accommodation in a hurry and cannot access their belongings. 

Where a person cannot access their digital data, a letter or an email from the Home Office should be enough to show there is a reason to believe that the person might be eligible for homelessness assistance.

Family members who do not yet have settled or pre-settled status

Some family members of EEA nationals might be eligible for homelessness assistance even if they have not applied to the EU Settlement Scheme yet or might still be waiting for a decision when they become homeless. This is known as temporary protection.

Temporary protection gives family members of EEA nationals the right to live in the UK until they receive a decision from the EU Settlement Scheme. To qualify for temporary protection, family members must be classed as a family member under EU rules and have either:

  • been lawfully resident in the UK on 31 December 2020

  • arrived after 31 December 2020 to join an EEA national who was lawfully resident in the UK on 31 December 2020

A family member with temporary protection can apply as homeless before making an application to the EU Settlement Scheme. EEA nationals and their family members had until 30 June 2021 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. In some circumstances a person can still apply after that date.

Family members with temporary protection usually ‘mirror’ the rights of the EEA national family member, in the same way as those with pre-settled status. They can sometimes retain their eligibility in the event of the EEA national’s death, departure from the UK or a relationship breakdown.

Family members whose EU Settlement Scheme application was rejected

A family member of an EEA national should get immigration advice if their application to the scheme was rejected.

Whether they are eligible for homelessness assistance depends on what other immigration or residence status they have. A person might have more than one status that gives them rights to be in the UK.

Low evidence threshold for emergency accommodation

A local authority must offer emergency accommodation to anyone who is homeless, if it has reason to believe that the person might be eligible and have a priority need. Priority need includes where someone has children or is vulnerable.

Reason to believe is a low threshold. Local authorities must not delay offering emergency help until extensive enquiries are carried out.  

A family member of an EEA national might not immediately have evidence of the EEA national's status if they are not living in the same household. A local authority might need to accept the person's account of their situation in the short term and make further inquiries.

Further resources

Shelter Legal

Homeless rights checker - use this interactive tool for a quick answer on whether someone might be eligible for homelessness help

People with EU pre-settled status – detailed information on when someone with pre-settled status is eligible for homelessness help

People with EU temporary protection – detailed information on when someone without status under the scheme might be eligible for homelessness help

Homeless application process – how people can make a homeless application to a local authority and what duties are owed to them.

About the authors

Ewa Brem is a content designer at Shelter, writing housing advice for the public. She has worked as a housing adviser and trainer.

Alona Kiriak was a legal editor at Shelter.