Exeter City Council are in the process of updating their Homelessness Strategy [2008-13] and this is being carried out as Teignbridge District Council do the same with their Housing Options and Homeless Strategy[ 2010-15].
Every local council provides help for people who are homeless or likely to be homeless within 28 days. The amount and level of help you get depends on your situation.
If you approach the council for help, you should expect to answer questions about your situation and provide evidence if asked.
So what is the legal definition of homelessness?
You should be considered homeless if you have no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world available for you to occupy. You don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered homeless.
If you apply to a local council for homelessness help, the council has to look at any accommodation you have access to. In many cases, it will be easy for a council to see that you may be homeless or likely to become homeless in the near future, for example if you are a tenant being evicted from rented accommodation or a home-owner being repossessed by your mortgage lender.
The council may decide you have a home if you are:
– living with friends or family who consent to you staying and haven’t asked you to leave
– you have ‘home rights’ giving you the right to stay in your home because you are married to or in a civil partnership with the tenant or home-owner
In many situations, if you are entitled to have a court order before you are required to leave, you won’t be considered homeless until the day that bailiffs come to evict. But the council can still decide that you are ‘threatened with homelessness’.
Other situations can be more complicated. The council has to look at your situation as a whole before deciding whether you are homeless. For example, even if you have accommodation that you have a legal right to live in and no one is trying to get you out, it may not be reasonable for you to stay there. This would be the case if you are experiencing violence or abuse or harassment, or if the condition of your home is damaging your health.
You CAN be homeless even if you have accommodation
Even if you have somewhere to stay, a local council may still consider you to be homeless.
Examples of situations where the council should consider you to be homeless even though you have accommodation include:
– you have no home where you can live together with your immediate family
– you can only stay where you are on a very temporary basis
– you don’t have permission to live where you are
– you have been locked out of home and you aren’t allowed back
– you can’t live at home because of violence or abuse or threats of violence or abuse, which are likely to be carried out against you or someone else in your household
– it isn’t reasonable for you to stay in your home for any reason (for example, if your home is in very poor condition)
– you can’t afford to stay where you are
– you live in a vehicle or boat and you have nowhere to put it
There may be other reasons why you should be considered homeless. Even if you don’t fit into one of these categories you may be able to argue you are homeless because you can’t stay where you are.
Get advice if you are not sure of your rights. In most cases, you should not leave your accommodation until the council accepts that you are homeless. If you do, the council may decide that you made yourself homeless intentionally.
How a council decides you are homeless
When you apply for help when homeless, the council decides if you are entitled to emergency housing and then if you should be helped with longer term housing.
Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. The local authority will look at a number of things to decide if you qualify for help. These are whether:
- you are eligible for assistance
- you are homeless or threatened with homelessness
- you have a priority need for housing (this test was abolished in Scotland on 31 December 2012)
- you are not intentionally homeless
- you have a local connection.
Generally, the more of these stages you get through, the more the local authority will have to do to help you.
Local social services authorities also have responsibility for some homeless people. They have a duty to provide accommodation for children and young people over 16 who are leaving care, or who are in need for other reasons.
1.Eligible for assistance
You will be considered legally homeless if you have no accommodation which is available and reasonable for you and your household to live in. This includes accommodation in another country. You will also be homeless if you have accommodation but cannot get into it. For example, if you have somewhere to stay with friends or relatives but have been asked to leave, or you are at risk of violence in your home. You will be considered to be threatened with homelessness, if you are likely to be homeless within 28 days (in Scotland, two months).
Certain people who arrive in this country, or who are returning from a period living abroad do not qualify for housing under homelessness laws. For example, many asylum-seekers (but not all) are excluded, as is someone who has spent significant time living away from the UK even if they are a UK citizen.
In England and Wales, you can find information on eligibility for local authority accommodation for people who have come from abroad and their families, on the Housing Rights website at www.housing-rights.info. In Scotland, you can find information at www.housing-rights.info/scotland. In Northern Ireland, you can find information at www.housingadviceni.org.uk.
The rules on eligibility are complex and if you are arriving in or returning to the UK, you should seek specialist advice at, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Homeless or threatened with homelessness.
2. Homeless or threatened with homelessness
You will be considered legally homeless if you have no accommodation which is available and reasonable for you and your household to live in. This includes accommodation in another country.
You will also be homeless if you have accommodation but cannot get into it. For example, if you have somewhere to stay with friends or relatives but have been asked to leave, or you are at risk of violence in your home. You will be considered to be threatened with homelessness, if you are likely to be homeless within 28 days (in Scotland, two months).
3. Priority need
You will be counted as having a ‘priority need’ for housing if you are homeless and:
– you are pregnant
– you have dependent children under 16, or under 19 if they are in full-time education
– you are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or a fire<
– you are aged 16 or 17.
You may also be in priority need if you fall into one of the following groups. In some cases, you may have to show that your situation has made you vulnerable:-
– you are elderly, or have a physical or mental illness or disability
– you are over 18 but at risk of exploitation or have been in care
– you are at risk of domestic violence, racial violence or other threats of violence<
– you are homeless after leaving hospital, prison or the armed forces.<
For more information on housing if you are in the armed forces or a veteran, see Housing information for the armed forces, veterans and their families.
The groups of people who have a priority need are different depending on whether you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or in Scotland before the test was abolished. If you think you fall into a priority need group you can check this with a specialist adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
4. Intentionally homeless
You may be considered ‘intentionally homeless’ if you have deliberately done something which has made you lose your home.
However, the definition of intentionally homeless is complicated and a decision made by your local authority can often be successfully challenged. For example, if you have become homeless because of rent or mortgage arrears you should not automatically be considered to be intentionally homeless. The local authority must look at each case individually. If you lost your home because of genuine financial problems you will not be homeless through your own fault.
5. Local connection
The local authority may refuse to accept responsibility if it thinks that you have no connection with the area where you are looking for help with housing. You would usually be expected to live, work or have family links to have a local connection. In this situation, you may be referred to an area where you do have a connection.
What action must the local authority take?
If the local authority needs time to carry out enquiries (and if it seems that you are homeless and, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in priority need), it must make sure you have somewhere to live while it investigates your situation.
If you qualify as homeless, the local authority will have to help you. It does not have to provide accommodation from its own properties. It can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.
The local authority’s decision
If the local authority decides that you are not homeless, it does not have any duties to arrange long-term accommodation for you. However, it will have some duties to help you, and must provide advice and assistance in finding accommodation, or provide a temporary place to stay while you find a permanent home.
The local authority must give reasons for its decision if it decides you aren’t homeless and tell you about the right to review a decision, or appeal it, if you live in Northern Ireland.
The decision letter is known as a section 184 letter.
If you disagree with the decision, you must request a review within 21 days of the date you receive the decision letter.
If you are in this situation, you should seek advice, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Shelter: Homeless? Read this – The rules on how and when the council has to help you [July 2013]
NHAS Factsheets for the public
National Homelessness Advice Service [NHAS] is a partnership between Shelter and Citizens Advice, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
NHAS have produced a series of useful factsheets: