Homeless? Know Your Rights
Councils are famous for trying to turn away as many people as they can – telling them they don’t fit criteria to be housed. In reality many of them are entitled to help – and this might include you
Nowhere to stay / likely to lose your home in the next 28 days?
The council is legally required to help you. How much help or whether it has to provide accommodation, depends on your situation. While looking into your situation, the council may have to provide you with somewhere to live. Even if the council has already told you that it doesn’t have to help you, check whether their reasons are legally correct.
There are 5 tests that the council must look at to decide the kind of help you are entitled to
1. Are You Homeless?
This includes people who will become homeless within the next 28 days, are poorly/unsafely housed as well as those on the streets. Reasons may include: violence / threats of violence; nowhere to live with family or anyone else who lives / could reasonably be expected to live with you (eg. children/partner/carer); serious overcrowding; very bad conditions affecting your health; or that you cannot afford your housing costs.
2. Are you eligible?
Does your immigration status allow you to be housed by a public authority? Unfortunately you are ineligible if you are an asylum seeker (many get temporary housing arranged by the UK Border Agency), have limited rights to remain in the UK, or you have stayed longer than the time allowed in the UK illegally – If unsure of your immigration status, get help from an immigration adviser.
3. are you in priority need?
May be a priority for many reasons: responsible for dependent children; shared child-care with ex-spouse or partner; children can’t live with you or are in care due to your housing problems; pregnancy; homeless as result of flood/fire/other disaster; a ‘vulnerable’ person – the council should look at your situation and decide if it means that you are more likely to suffer injury/harm if you had to sleep on the streets than other people. Council may categorise vulnerability due to: old age; physical/mental illness or disability; over 20 & previously in care; violence/abuse at homedue to gender/ethnic origin/religion. aged 16 or 17.
4. Are you intentionally homeless?
If the Council thinks being homeless is your fault, they may only have to house you for a very short time while they help you find your own accommodation. If you have children, the housing department must, if agreed, refer you to social services for help finding somewhere to live. They may pay for accommodation for a short time while you look , and/or give you money to give to a landlord for a deposit. Sometimes social services will say they can only house your children. If they do, get advice from a Shelter advice service or citizens advice bureau. If you don’t want them to ask social services to help you, or if you don’t have children, the housing department must give you some help finding somewhere else to live. It should give you accommodation for a long enough period for you to find somewhere, but depending on your circumstances this may only be 28 days. You should be able to join the council waiting list for housing.
5. Local connection.
This is the LAST thing a council should consider not the first! It is unlawful for a council to turn you away or tell you to apply to another council because you do not have a local connection with their area. But If you don’t have a connection with the borough where you are applying but DO have one somewhere else, the Council may tell THAT borough to house you. They can only do this AFTER they have investigated your case and made a decision on the first 4 tests. You have a local connection with an area if you: live/have lived, in the area for at least 6 months in the last year, or 3 of the last 5 years; have a close relative who has lived in the area at least 5 years; need to live in the area for a special reason, such as specialist health care or you had lived in the area for a long time in the past.
WHAT THE COUNCIL SHOULD DO
If the council has reason to believe you may be homeless now or within the next 28 days, they MUST take your application and begin investigating the 5 tests. This application is not the same thing as being put on the housing register. At the end of their investigation they MUST give you a written decision letter about your case.
If the council has reason to believe you may be homeless, eligible and in priority need, they MUST find you interim accommodation while they investigate your housing situation
Reason to believe is NOT the same as proof or evidence. A recent case in the high court said that if a person goes to a Homeless Persons Unit to get help, this is enough in itself to give the Council reason to believe the person may be homeless.
WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DO
Councils often do everything they can to refuse/delay housing people even if there is clearly reason to believe they may be homeless, eligible and in priority need. These are some things councils say to try to turn you away:
- They can’t help until they’ve done a home visit sometime.
- They can’t help until you’ve actually been evicted by bailiffs.
- They won’t help until you bring in a doctors report.
- They won’t help until you gone through mediation.
- They won’t help until you show a police report regarding violence.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Most of these tactics are unlawful. If this happens to you – stand firm and tell the Council that you know your rights and that you wont be turned away! If they still refuse to help, ask for a written decision letter telling you why the won’t help and take this to an advice agency / contact us.