Here are some tips for approaching your council:
- Find out when the housing office opens and try to get there early. Choose a day when you have no other appointments as you’ll probably need to wait to be seen.
- Remember you’re entitled to make a homeless application and you shouldn’t be turned away without the opportunity to make one.
- Ask for, and keep a note of, the name, phone number and email address of the housing officer you talk to.
- Before you leave, try to make sure you are clear about what will happen next.
- If you can, take a friend or a trusted adult with you for support.
Try to take with you:
- Identification: ID card, driving licence, birth certificate or passport
- Evidence you’re homeless: eviction letter from your landlord or a letter from the person you were living with explaining that you can no longer stay there
- Proof of your income: wage slips, bank statements or proof of benefit claim
- Evidence of any medical conditions: for example, a letter from your GP
- Proof of immigration status: If you are subject to immigration control you will need to take proof of your immigration status
Having these with you will help things go more smoothly, but if you need urgent help and don’t have all the documents, don’t worry – go anyway and sort out the paperwork as soon as you can.
What happens during a homeless application?
A brief chat with someone at the main desk or reception is not making a homeless application. It should involve speaking with a housing officer who has to look into five specific things:
- If you’re eligible: if you’re a British citizen, then you are eligible. If not, this doesn’t automatically exclude you but you might need more specialist advice.
- If you’re homeless: you need to prove this if you can for example by taking a letter from the person you have been staying with
- If you’re intentionally homeless: this means if you have done something, or failed to do something which made you homeless. Please note that being kicked out by parents or fleeing abuse is not intentionally homeless.
- If you’re in priority need: this includes pregnant women, people with quite serious mental or physical health needs, some people who have been in care and people who may be vulnerable for some other reason. It can be hard to talk about your personal situation and history, but it’s really important that you give the council a full picture of your situation and why you need support.
- If you have a local connection to the area: this means having lived there for 6 of the last 12 months, 3 of the last 5 years, have a permanent job or immediate family in the area.
If the council decides you’re eligible, homeless and in priority need, then they must offer you temporary accommodation immediately. If they need more time to assess your situation but think you may be in priority need, they must still offer you emergency accommodation which is likely to be for 30 days. See ‘What is temporary accommodation’.
The council may say that it does not have a duty to offer you accommodation because it has decided you are not in ‘priority need’. If this happens you can ask for their decision in writing. This is sometimes called a Section 184 Decision Letter. It’s a document you are entitled to although you may not get it on the same day. You can go back to collect it or ask the council to email it to you. Having a copy of this letter is important if you believe that you should be in priority need and want to challenge the council’s decision. See ‘I want to challenge the council’s decision’.
Even if you are not in priority need the council still has a duty to help relieve your homelessness. This is because of something called the Homelessness Reduction Act.
This is a change to the law which came into force in April 2018. Anyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness can get support regardless of whether they are intentionally homeless or in priority need. Your local council should work with you to complete a personalised housing plan.
The personalised housing plan will set out the steps that you and the council must take so that you can stay in or find suitable accommodation. Examples of this can include:
- Family mediation
- Providing financial support to help you into private rented accommodation
- Making a referral to other types of housing such as hostels
- Helping to secure an immediate safe place to stay for anyone who is sleeping rough
The steps that the council put in your personal housing plan must be realistic and include your views. You can ask for these to be reviewed from time to time.