Homeless Assistance in the UK

The law in the UK makes it an obligation of your local council to ensure that you have adequate accomodation.  This means that if you are legally homeless then your council must help you.

How much help your local council must give you depends on a number of facts:

  • Are you homeless through no fault of your own?
  • What is your level of need (Any disabilities, dependant children etc?)

You can check out if your council must give you emergency housing on Shelter’s Emergency Housing Rights Checker.

Legally Homeless

Legally Homeless is a term used by local council’s and government.

You may be legally homeless if:

  • you’ve no legal right to live in accommodation anywhere in the world
  • you can’t get into your home – eg your landlord has locked you out
  • it’s not reasonable to stay in your home – eg risk of violence or abuse
  • you’re forced to live apart from your family or people you normally live with because there’s no suitable accommodation for you
  • you’re living in very poor conditions – eg overcrowding

If you’re legally homeless, your council must provide you with help – this could range from giving advice to arranging accommodation for you.

The amount of help they give you will depend on things like:

  • if you became homeless through no fault of your own
  • if you’re eligible for assistance
  • if you’re in priority need

Eligibility for assistance

If you live permanently in the UK, you will usually be eligible for assistance. If you’re from abroad, you may not be eligible because of your immigration status.

Shelter’s emergency housing rights checker helps you work out if you’re eligible for assistance and what you’re entitled to.

Priority need

You’re in priority need if:

  • you or someone you live with is pregnant
  • ‘dependent children’ live with you (under 16s or under 19s if they’re studying full-time)
  • you’re ‘vulnerable‘, eg as a result of old age or disability
  • you’re homeless after a flood, fire or other disaster

You may be entitled to Housing Benefit to help with your housing costs.  If you are claiming Housing Benefit, ensure that you specifically request the local council to assess you for “Local Council Tax Reduction” as this is an entirely different benefit.

Shelter: The Housing and Homelessness Charity provide excellent advice and help to people.  If you have any further information requirements then do not hesitate to contact them.

Also, an additional piece of legislation may help if you have children:  Section 17 of The Childrens Act 1989 puts a duty of care on the local authority for children living in their area – regardless of their/their parents immigration status.  Section 17(6) specifically stating:

(6) The services provided by a local authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them by this section may include [providing accommodation and] giving assistance in kind or  . . in cash.


I am in no way suggesting that people coming home go directly to their local councils.  Please try and ensure that you aren’t going to end up on the streets when you return home to the UK.  However, If you arrange to sleep on a mates sofa, you are still considered as homeless.

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