Are you homeless or about to become homeless?
- Posted: 06/01/22
- Category: Housing
What you can do if you’re homeless or about to become homeless
If you're already homeless, for example, you’re sleeping on the streets or sleeping on a friend's sofa temporarily, or you're going to be homeless in the next eight weeks, then you may be able to get help from the local authority to find somewhere else to live. Before you apply to the local authority as homeless, there are a few things you may need to think about first.
Can you stay in your home?
If you have somewhere to live but you're threatened with homelessness, for example, if you received a notice to vacate from the landlord, you should first consider whether or not you can challenge the notice. This is because in many cases there are grounds to challenge the proceedings, for example if you have a defence, counter-claim or the landlord hasn’t followed certain formalities required by law.
Also, if your landlord has evicted you unlawfully, for example, if they were legally required to get a possession order from the county court but instead changed the locks whilst you are out, you might be able to get an injunction against the landlord to secure access to your home.
Whether you can stay in your home depends on the type of tenancy you have, and whether the person threatening you with homelessness has followed the correct procedure. If you can challenge the eviction you might not yet be homeless or threatened with homelessness.
If you're on a low income or in receipt of a qualifying income-based benefit, you might be eligible for Legal Aid for advice and representation to challenge the notice to stay in your home, or to get an injunction against the landlord if you were evicted unlawfully.
Citizens Advice North Lancashire employs a housing solicitor and a team of supervised housing case workers which may be able to help you if you’re threatened with homelessness. If you don't qualify for Legal Aid, or you’re not sure, you can check on the GOV.UK website here or call our Adviceline.
What if I can’t stay or I am already homeless?
Whilst you might want to look for private rented accommodation or apply for social housing, if you meet the eligibility rules, the local authority may have a duty to help you find somewhere to live and to provide you with temporary accommodation whilst you look for somewhere to live long term. There are five main eligibility rules that you need to know about before you apply as homeless.
Immigration status and residence
If you or someone in your household is a British or Irish citizen habitually resident in the UK then you'll usually satisfy this requirement. If you recently returned to the UK or you don't have British or Irish citizenship, you might still qualify for assistance, so you should speak to one of our advisers as the rules can be complex. You can find out more about the immigration status and residence rules on the Shelter website here.
Legally homeless (i.e. homeless or threatened with homelessness in 8 weeks)
The local authority will only consider that they have a duty towards you if you are actually homeless or threatened with homelessness. Actual homelessness could be staying in ‘unsuitable’ accommodation (known as homeless at home, i.e. sofa surfing or living in overcrowded housing) or not having any accommodation (known as street homeless).
If you're threatened with homelessness, the homelessness must happen within 8 weeks, for example if your landlord gave you more notice then the usual two months, the local authority might ask you to start looking at private and social housing and wait before you apply.
The rules are quite detailed so if you're not sure if you're homeless, speak to one of our advisors. You can find out more about the legally homeless rules on the Shelter website here.
In priority need
You'll be in priority need if:
you live with a child under 16, are young person under 18 if they are in full time education or training;
someone in your household is pregnant;
someone is homeless because of domestic abuse or an emergency such as a fire or flood;
you’re also in priority need if you’re 16 or 17 not living with your family or 18 to 20 and you were living in care; and/or
you’re vulnerable, for example if you have health conditions, disabilities, or are elderly, which would make it more difficult for you to find housing.
You can find out more about the priority need rules on the Shelter website here.
The local connection test looks at what links you have to the district in which you are applying for help. you need to have links based on living or working in the district, having close family in the district or there is another special reason why you need to live in the district.
If you don’t have a local connection, you should think about whether there is another district where you do have a local connection or whether there are special reasons supporting your need to live in the district.
If you’re not sure, can find out more about the local connection rules on the Shelter website here.
Not intentionally homeless
This test looks at whether or not you were homeless through your own fault. For example, if the local authority advised you that your home is suitable and advised you not to surrender your tenancy until the landlord had served you with a formal notice, and you surrendered the tenancy anyway, the local authority might refuse to assist you.
The rules for this test are the most complicated of all of the requirements that the local authority will expect you to meet, so if you have been told that you are intentionally homeless, or you're worried about applying as homeless due to a possible finding of intentional homelessness, you should speak to an adviser.
You can find out more about the intentionally homeless rules on the Shelter website here.
What if I don’t qualify?
If you don't meet the eligibility rules, you should think about whether someone else in your household might. You might be able to join their application if there is a good reason for you to continue living with them. If this doesn’t work, you might be able to get help from social services instead, but you should speak to an adviser to confirm whether you’re eligible first.
What help can I get?
The help you’ll get depends on whether you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness. If you have nowhere else to stay tonight and you think you are eligible for homelessness assistance, you should contact the local authority and ask them for interim accommodation. The local authorities provide out of hours numbers for you to contact, if for example you are made homeless in the middle of the night.
If you're threatened with homelessness, you can only apply within eight weeks of the homeless happening, unless you're not sure when it will happen. The local authority has a prevention duty during this time to try to help prevent your homelessness from happening, whereas if you are actually homeless at the end of the eight weeks, then the local authority has a relief duty to provide you with somewhere to stay temporarily.
Temporary accommodation is not supposed to last longer than 6 months unless there are good reasons to support this. The local authority should also help you to secure ‘long term’ accommodation which is suitable for you or your household to occupy for 2 years. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Council will give you a home for two years, they might help you to apply to private landlords and/or housing associations instead.
You can find out more about how the local authority can help you on our website here.
What if the local authority says they can't help me?
There are two stages where this will usually happen.
The first stage is where you are ‘gatekept’, which is when the local authority tries to discourage you from making an application before carrying out enquiries as to whether they owe a duty to you, in order to manage their capacity. At this point you haven't made a formal written homeless application and you haven’t received a written decision which you can challenge through the review process, which makes it difficult for you to prove to a Court that you applied in the first place. If this happens to you, you should make a written application explaining why you meet the eligibility rules using the template on the Shelter website here, and follow this up with a call to the local authority.
The second stage is where you’ve made a formal homeless application and received a written decision letter within 8 weeks of making the application. The local authority has eight weeks to make a written decision and if they don't give you a decision before then, or they refuse to help you, you may be able to challenge the local authority by asking for a review before applying to the County Court.
Can I challenge my homelessness decision?
You can only challenge a homeless decision on a point of law or fact during the review process, but if you want to challenge it in the County Court, it has to be on a point of law only. For this reason, it’s important that you make sure the local authority has all the evidence they need to make their decision when you apply, or at the very least, when asking for a review.
There are time limits for challenging a homelessness decision, either 21 days from the date you received the decision, or 21 days from the date you ought to have received it. If your homelessness is urgent and you still haven’t received a decision, you can complain to the local authority and speak to one of our advisers.
If you’re offered accommodation but you feel it is unsuitable, you should speak to an adviser before you decide to refuse the offer, otherwise the local authority might end it’s duty towards you. It’s usually best to accept the offer and challenge it at the same time so that you have somewhere to stay.
You can find more information about challenging a homeless application decision on our website here.
Can I get Legal Aid to challenge a decision or resist homelessness?
If you're on a low income or in receipt of a qualifying income-based benefit, you might be able to get Legal Aid to do this. If you’re not sure, you can check if you qualify on the GOV.UK website here.
Legal Aid however won't usually cover help to make homeless applications unless you are in exceptional circumstances, but you can still speak to one of our generalist advisers, who are supported by our housing team, for help with making a formal homelessness application or checking whether you qualify for Legal Aid.
Still need help?
Pick up the phone and call our FREEPHONE Adviceline on 0808 278 7882 for a free confidential discussion with one of our advisers, or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.