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Applying for help if you're homeless

This advice applies to England

If you're already homeless, or likely to become homeless within the next 8 weeks you can apply for help getting somewhere to live from your local council. This is known as making a homeless application.

The council will look into your situation to decide what help they might be able to give you. There isn't a set time to get a decision, but there shouldn't be an unreasonably long delay.

Before making an application check if you're entitled to homeless help. If you're not sure, it's still worth applying because the council has to review all applications.

If you’re not a British citizen and you’ve been rough sleeping your right to stay in the UK might be affected. If you’re applying to the EU Settlement Scheme your application cannot be turned down because of rough sleeping. Talk to an adviser if you’re worried that rough sleeping might affect your immigration status.

Rough sleeping immigration rules

The government’s Immigration Rule says that rough sleepers might have their permission to stay in the UK refused or cancelled.

The government cannot use rough sleeping as a reason to refuse applications to stay in the UK made on the basis of:

  • asylum or protection (except children resettled from Europe)
  • family life - partners and their children, adult dependent relatives, and parents of settled children
  • private life

They also cannot use rough sleeping as a reason to refuse applications to the EU Settlement Scheme.

The rules say your client should only be at risk of having their permission to stay in the UK refused or cancelled if they:

“refuse to engage with the range of available support mechanisms and...engage in persistent anti-social behaviour.”

You can check the government’s guidance on the rough sleeping immigration rules on GOV.UK.

If your client is in this situation, the local council could tell the Home Office. The Home Office might then use this information against them in future applications or to cancel their existing leave. For EU, EEA and Swiss nationals it is most likely that this rule will be used for people arriving after 31 December 2020.

The rough sleeping Immigration Rule might be used against people with 'leave outside the rules' or 'discretionary leave', but only in exceptional circumstances. They may be allowed to use public funds and so can access homelessness help and social housing. 'Leave outside the rules' or 'discretionary leave' is most often given to refused asylum seekers who have other reasons for remaining, such as medical treatment.

The council might have to give you emergency housing straightaway while they look at your application, you should always ask for this. If they refuse to give you housing you can challenge their decision. Read more about challenging a homeless decision.

If the council won’t let you make a homeless application or they refuse to give you emergency housing contact your nearest Citizens advice to get help.

If you’re aged 16 to 17 or you’ve recently been living in care, social services usually have to help you with housing. Find out more about when social services must house you.

If you have nowhere safe to sleep and need help

If you can’t stay in your home because of violence, threats or any other abuse you can apply for homeless help. You can also get help from:

Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time

Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm

Calls to these numbers are free.

Applying to the council

Coronavirus - if you’re sleeping outside or in a shelter where you can’t self-isolate

This is sometimes known as ‘rough sleeping’. 

Your local council might help you now, even if you wouldn’t usually be entitled to help. Ask your council how they can help - you can find their contact details on GOV.UK. 

If you were given emergency housing and are worried you'll lose it 

You should ask your council if you can stay in your emergency housing. You might now be considered ‘in priority need’ for accommodation because of coronavirus.

If your council still asks you to leave, you should ask what their policy is for helping rough sleepers. The government have said they’re working with local councils to keep people in housing - that includes making more funding available to support rough sleepers.

You can find your local council's contact details on GOV.UK.

It’s best to go in person or phone your local council’s housing department as soon as possible, because it can take a long time to be dealt with. Tell them you want to make a homeless application.

They’II arrange for a housing officer to interview you - this will usually be on the same day if you have nowhere to stay that night.

If the council office is closed, check their website - there should be an emergency number you can call.

If you can’t apply for help yourself, for example because you’re ill someone else can apply for you. For example, you could give consent for a family member or support worker to apply on your behalf.

Preparing to speak to the council

When you speak to the council, you'll need to explain why you're homeless or about to become homeless.

It's worth writing down what you plan to say first. If you need help to do this, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

You should also try to take:

  • proof of your identity, for example your passport or birth certificate
  • your tenancy agreement, if you have one
  • evidence of why you have to leave your home, for example an eviction notice
  • medical information, if you have health problems  

You can still apply for help if you don’t have these documents - you’II usually need to give other documents. Ask the council what documents you can give instead.

If you've applied for help before 

You can apply again, but the council doesn’t have to accept your application unless there’s been a change to your situation since you last applied. For example, if you’ve had a child.

If your situation has changed and the council refuses to accept your application contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Speaking to the housing officer

Tell the housing officer why you’re being made homeless. For example, tell them if your landlord has given you notice to leave.

Try and give as much detail as possible about your situation. They want to find out more about your situation so they can decide if the council has to help you. 

They should explain the application process including how the the council will decide if they can help and what help they can give you.

The housing officer will also want to know

  • if you live permanently in the UK
  • who lives with you, for example whether you have children
  • if you or other people living with you have any support needs, for example if you’re disabled or have a long-term illness

What happens next

The council should write to tell you what help they can give you.

If you meet the criteria to get help the council will first try to see if they can help you stay in your home if you're going to be homeless. If you’re already homeless they’II try to help you find a new home. Find out more about how the council can help you with housing.

If the council can’t help you to stay in your home or find a new one they’II check if they can give you other help. You might be able to get emergency housing or longer-term housing. Find out more about the housing you can be offered.

You should continue to look for housing whilst you’re waiting for the council's decision so you’II have somewhere to live if they can’t offer you housing.

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