Homelessness - Adults


Homelessness is often associated with sleeping on the streets, but in reality the vast majority of homeless people are families or single individuals who are not sleeping rough. Some may be living with friends or in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfast hotels, hostels, night shelters and refuges.

There may be a huge impact on the wellbeing of an individual and their situation may be causing great detriment to their health as many households and individuals are living in poor quality accommodation.

Legal Definition of Homelessness

Legal definition of homelessness

The statutory definition of a homeless person, as set out in Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, is:

(1) A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, which he-

(a) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or by virtue of an order of a court,

(b) has an express or implied licence to occupy, or

(c) occupies as a residence by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.

(2) A person is also homeless if he has accommodation but-

(a) he cannot secure entry to it, or

(b) it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.

(3) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.

Seeking Help & Advice

Seeking Help & Advice

Housing authorities have a duty to provide advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness and the rights of homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless. This must be free of charge and be available to any person within their district. All applicants, including those who are ineligible as a result of their immigration status, will be able to access assistance. The service offered can be provided by the housing authority or another agency on their behalf. Applicants should be referred for appropriate support which they may be entitled to where relevant.

There is an immediate duty on the housing authority to provide interim accommodation whilst investigating an individual’s circumstances, for anyone they have reason to believe may be homeless and in priority need. Under homelessness legislation an application must be made in order to access long-term housing.

An individual or household must also be legally classed as being homeless, by showing they have nowhere that is available or reasonable to occupy, anywhere in the world. Examples include;

  • having no accommodation or having accommodation which is not reasonable to live in, even in the short-term, such as overcrowding, violence or housing disrepair

  • there is a legal right to the accommodation but it cannot be accessed, for example an illegal eviction

  • living in accommodation you have no legal right to occupy. For example sofa surfing or living in a squat.

The duty to house an individual or a household is subject to certain criteria, the legal terms are; eligible for help, in priority need, intentionally homeless and a local connection. There is a duty on authorities to provide temporary accommodation for these households or individuals, who meet this criteria, until suitable settled accommodation can be found.

Eligible for help

Eligibility for help

Eligibility for assistance will not be available for some people who have lived abroad. Someone who has refugee status, settled immigration status or exceptional leave to enter and remain, are likely to be eligible for assistance.

The rules on eligibility are very complex and it is very important to seek specialist advice.

Priority need

Priority need

An individual or household will be considered to be in priority need where an individual or the household includes the following:

  • someone that is pregnant

  • has dependent children

  • leaving prison or the armed forces

  • has a vulnerability

Examples of vulnerability may include mental or physical disabilities, age, domestic violence or being made homeless because of an emergency such as a flood, fire or another disaster. This is not an exhaustive list and the individual or household’s circumstances will be taken into consideration.

Young people (aged 16 or 17) or a care leaver (aged 18 to 21)

A homeless young person is usually classed as a 'Child in Need' and becomes the responsibility of social services. This also applies after leaving foster care. If foster care is not necessary social services should not offer this as a solution if it is not the wishes of the individual. The homeless department of the local council should provide safe emergency accommodation in the interim. After speaking to social services a decision is made between them to which department should help the young person in the longer term.

Intentionally Homeless

Intentionally Homeless

An individual or household must show they have not made themselves intentionally homeless in a deliberately way. One example is where someone has failed to make mortgage or rent payments when they could have afforded to do so and it has consequently resulted in the loss of their home.

Local Connection

Consideration is given by the authority as to whether the individual or household has a connection to the district in which they have applied. If there is no local connection a referral to an area where there is a local connection can be made instead. If there is no local connection with another area then the authority the individual first approached must help.

A household or individual will have a local connection where an individual or household has;

  • lived in the area for six months of the last year, or three years out of the last five years

  • works within the district to which they have applied ( if you are serving in the armed forces you will be treated as working within the district

  • wants or needs to live near a close relative who has lived in the area for more than five years

  • needs to live in the area for a specific reason, for example it may be a necessity to use a hospital that is there or a certain school.

Ineligibility and further assistance

Under housing legislation a housing authority may refer an individual or household to another organisation which is suitable and that may be able to help, when the individual or household does not meet eligibility criteria set out by housing law.

An individual or household may not qualify for rehousing as they do not meet the legal criteria, even though they may have a serious housing need. For example, there would be no duty to house a family with children if they are deemed intentionally homeless or a vulnerable disabled asylum seeker, as there would be no eligibility because of their immigration status. In these cases other help may be offered for example from social services departments or the New Asylum Model (NAM). In addition some individuals or households will not seek help or make an application as they may consider themselves as not being a priority.



Civil Legal Advice (to find a local housing solicitor)

Phone: 0345 345 4345


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