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Getting help from social services if you're homeless

This advice applies to England

Social services might be able to find you somewhere to live if you're homeless and:

  • 16 to 17 and you don't have family you can live with
  • 16 to 17 and you've recently been living in care
  • responsible for a child who normally lives with you
  • ill, disabled or have mental health needs

If you're over 18 you'll usually need to ask your local council's housing department for help before trying to get help from social services.

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.

Immigration and housing rules

If you’re subject to immigration control, you might still be able to get housing from social services but this could affect your right to stay in the UK. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to put you in touch with an immigration solicitor before speaking to social services.

Find out more about immigration and housing rules on the Housing Rights website.

Social services have to look into your situation to work out your needs and how they might be able to help you. This is known as carrying out a ‘needs assessment’.

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.

Find out what help you can get

The help you might get from social services will depend on your circumstances.

If you're 16 or 17 

Social services have to find somewhere for you to live if they decide you’re a ‘child in need’.

You’re a child in need if:

  • you’re disabled
  • your health or development wouldn’t reach a reasonable level or would be damaged without help from social services

If you’re homeless you’II usually be classed as a child in need because your health or development can be affected by not having a home.

If you’re eligible for help you could be offered housing in:

  • a residential foster home
  • a family arranged foster home - for example, living with relatives where social services oversee your care
  • supported housing

Your rent and living costs such as food and clothing will be paid by social services. You’II usually be given help until you’re 18 - it could be longer in some cases if you were previously living in care.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you can’t get help from social services.

If you were previously in care

Social services might have to help you with housing and financial support until you’re 23 - it’II depend on your circumstances and whether you’re still in education. For example, they might have to help you if you have health problems.

If social services say they can’t help you with housing, you should ask your local council’s housing department for help. If you were previously in care you should be classed by the council as being in priority need for housing. Find out more about being in priority need.

If you have children

If you’re homeless and you have children, social services only have to find somewhere for your children to live if they decide they’re ‘in need’. But they should try to house you with your children if possible.

Your child is in need if:

  • they’re disabled
  • their health or development wouldn’t reach a reasonable level or would be damaged without help from social services

If your child becomes homeless they’re usually classed as a child in need.

If your family is subject to immigration control

Social services might not have to help your child unless it’s necessary to prevent a breach of human rights. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if social services won’t help your child.

If your family isn’t subject to immigration control

If your child is in need and your family isn’t subject to immigration control, you might be offered private rented housing if you can be housed together. You might be offered bed and breakfast accommodation if there’s nowhere else available.

If your family can’t be housed together or you’re refused help by social services contact your nearest Citizens Advice to put you in touch with a family solicitor straightaway.

If you're ill or disabled

Social services must assess what care and support needs you have if you're homeless. They must check if they can help you with housing as part of meeting your needs. Your needs must have a significant impact on you.

Care and support needs can include needing help with things like:

  • getting out of bed
  • washing
  • dressing
  • cooking and eating

Find out more about care and support needs on GOV.UK.

You should explain to social services how your care and support needs can only be met by getting help with housing. For example, you wouldn't be able to cook a meal and eat without having a home.

If you're subject to immigration control

Social services might not have to help you with housing - the rules are complex. Contact your nearest citizens Advice if social services won't help you.

If social services can help you with housing you could be offered:

  • a place in a care home or supported housing
  • financial help to to get care and support at home
  • help to stay in the community

Applying for help from social services

You should call your local councils’ social services department and explain your circumstances and ask them to assess your need or your family’s need for housing. Make sure you tell them that you’re homeless. If you have health problems explain how they affect you.

You don’t need to apply for help if you’ve been referred to social services by the council. But it’s still worth checking that they’II do a needs assessment.

Preparing for your needs assessment

Your assessment must be done in a suitable way for your circumstances and your child’s if you’ve asked for their needs to be assessed. For example, it can be done by:

  • completing a form
  • a telephone interview
  • having a face to face meeting with a social worker

Get evidence of your situation or child’s if their needs are being assessed. You’II need to send the information to your local council’s social services office or take it to the assessment, if possible. You could, for example, get a letter from your doctor or support worker to explain how not getting housing will affect you and your household.

You can send evidence to your local social services office after the assessment if you can’t get it before.

Social services will usually also ask your doctor and other people who know you about your needs or your child’s, if you agree.

There’s no deadline for social services to do a needs assessment if you’re an adult, but they should give you an idea of how long it will take.

If you need an assessment for your child or you’re 16 or 17 and need one, it should be done in 45 working days of you making a request. If social services don’t meet the deadline they must explain why.  

After the assessment you’II get a written decision saying if social services can give you housing.

If the housing you’re offered is unsuitable

Explain to social services why you think it’s unsuitable and ask for alternative accommodation.

Give them any evidence to support your case, for example a letter from your doctor explaining that the property will be harmful to your health.

If social services won’t give you somewhere else to stay, ask your nearest Citizens Advice to put you in touch with a solicitor.

If social services don’t offer you housing

Social services must give you a clear reason for their decision. They’II usually also give you information on finding somewhere to live.

If you disagree with their assessment decision you can complain by following your local council's complaints procedure. Find your local council on GOV.UK.

If you’re still not happy with social services response

You can take further action by complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman.

You might also be able to take legal action in certain cases where making a complaint wouldn’t be appropriate. For example, if you’re a homeless 16 or 17 old and social services refused to help without good reason.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you're considering legal action. An adviser can check if you can take action and if you can get legal help.

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