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If you're homeless or at risk of homelessness

This advice applies to Scotland

Coronavirus – homelessness support

If you’re homeless and worried about coronavirus, contact your local council homelessness team, to find out what help is available in your area.

From 6 May 2020 the local authority can provide temporary accommodation in hotels and bed and breakfasts if this is required because you need to self-isolate or keep to the social distancing rules.

Find your council on mygov.scot.

What to do if you’re homeless or worried about losing your home

If you’re homeless, or you’re likely to become homeless, you should apply to the council for help. 

You can apply for help as a single person or with anyone you can expect to live with, like your partner and children.

The council decides if you qualify for help under homeless law. It might have a duty to make permanent housing available for your household or to take steps to prevent you becoming homeless. 

If you’re homeless, you’re entitled to temporary housing while the council investigates your application.

Being homeless doesn’t just mean sleeping on the streets. In some cases you can be legally homeless even if you’ve got a roof over your head. For example, if where you’re staying isn’t suitable for your disability. 

You might also be at risk of becoming homeless, for example because your landlord is trying to evict you. 

European Economic Area (EEA) citizens and people 'subject to immigration control' 

The rules about immigration and housing are complex. Get immigration advice before you apply for homeless help. If you apply when you shouldn’t, it could affect whether you can stay in the UK. 

You might not be eligible for homeless help from the council if you, or other members of your household, are subject to ‘immigration control’. This means you need permission to stay in the UK. Only some people who are subject to immigration control are eligible for homeless help. 

If you’re an EEA citizen, you must have a right to reside in the UK to be eligible for homeless help. See the countries included in the EEA on the UK government website

There’s more information about who’s eligible for homeless help on the Chartered Institute of Housing website

Brexit update

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. However, if you're from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you'll continue to have the same rights to homeless help as you did before, at least until 31 December 2020.

If you're from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland and are living in the UK and wish to stay, you should apply for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Your access to homeless help might change if you don't have settled status by 31 December 2020. We'll update our advice as the situation becomes clearer.

If you're under 18

If you're under 18, you can become homeless for a number of reasons, like being asked to leave by a parent. You don't have to sleep on the streets. 

Councils have duties to keep people under 18 safe and well. You should contact the local social work department to ask for help. Check for an emergency or 'out of hours' number on their website if it’s late at night. 

Find your local council using mygov.scot.

You can also speak to Childline about what's happened and what your options are.

ChildLine
Helpline: 0800 1111
Email: secure email and 1-2-1 chat messaging available once a child has signed up to the 'your locker' section of website
Website: www.childline.org.uk

If you're 16 or 17 you could choose to apply to the council as a homeless adult instead. You might need to claim benefits to help pay your rent and living costs. You'll need to think carefully about whether this is the best option for you. 

More about if you're struggling with living costs.

If you're leaving an abusive relationship

You’ll need specialist advice if you’re leaving an abusive relationship. 

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helpline can help you make a safety plan and advise on your safest housing options.

Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline
Tel: 0800 027 1234
Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk
Website: sdafmh.org.uk

If you're in danger, call 999 instead. If it's too dangerous to speak to the operator, dial '55' when prompted to let them know that it's not an accidental call and that you need help.

You can also read our advice for people who have experienced abuse.
Use this page to find out how to apply and how the council will consider your application. If you need help, you can get advice at any point. 

Are you homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

When you apply, the council has to investigate whether you’re legally homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless within two months. 

If the council decides that you’re not, you won’t be entitled to homeless help, although you could challenge its decision. 

Being homeless has a legal meaning in Scotland. It doesn’t just mean sleeping on the streets. It's possible to be homeless under the law, even if you’ve got somewhere to stay. 

For example, you may be legally homeless if:

  • there’s nowhere in the UK or in the rest of the world where you and your family have a right to stay - for example, you’ve been evicted from your tenancy or you've been sleeping on a friend's sofa and they've asked you to leave
  • it’s unreasonable to stay where you are - for example, because it’s temporary housing like a refuge or hostel, or it’s not suitable for your disability
  • you can't get access to your home - for example, a landlord or partner has changed the locks
  • you’d be abused or threatened - by someone you lived with, like domestic abuse by a partner or ex-partner
  • you’re living apart from your family - because there’s nowhere you can live together

These are just examples. There are other ways that you can be legally homeless too. Whether you're legally homeless will depend on the facts of your case. 

Read about the definition of homelessness in more detail on Shelter Scotland's website

Being at risk of becoming homeless

The council will decide if you're at risk of becoming homeless. To qualify for help you usually have to be at risk of becoming legally homeless within the next two months. 

For example, this might apply if you’re:

  • being evicted
  • asked to leave a friend or relative’s home
  • leaving prison 
  • leaving care 
  • leaving armed forces housing
  • at risk of losing a home you own

These are examples. You might be at risk of becoming legally homeless for another reason. 

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for help

Use Shelter Scotland's tool for a quick guide to whether the council has a duty to help you.

If you don't think you'll be considered homeless or at risk of homelessness, you should get advice before you apply. 

If you think you're homeless, or at risk of homelessness, you should apply to the council for help as soon as possible. 

How to apply to the council for homeless help

Emergency applications

If you’re reading this late at night or it’s an emergency, you don’t have to sleep rough. You can make an emergency application to the council. Check their website for an 'out of hours' number.

Find your local council on mygov.scot.

You can apply for homeless help if you're 16 or over. 

Remember you don’t have to take action alone. An adviser can help you apply to the council for help, and look at your other options.

Check which council you should apply to 

If you're at risk of becoming homeless, apply to the council for the area you're living in. 

If you're already homeless, apply where you, or someone you can expect to live with, can show a local connection. 

Local connection means you have a link to the area. It gives you the best chance of being housed permanently in that area. 

But if you’re at risk of domestic abuse, the normal rules about local connection don’t apply. You should get specialist advice to find safe housing in the right area. Read our advice for people who have experienced abuse

Check if you have a local connection 

For example, you, or someone you can expect to live with, might have a link through: 

  • living there - you’ve been living there for six of the last twelve months, or at least three of the last five years
  • work - you have a job there or need to move there for a job
  • family - for example, if a family member has been living there for at least five years

To form a local connection you must have been living there by choice. Time in the armed forces will count but time in prison, a psychiatric hospital or immigration asylum accommodation doesn't. 

You might have a local connection in another way, like needing to continue health care in a particular area of the UK. If there's a reason you need to stay in a particular area, get advice to check if it counts as a local connection. 

If you have a local connection with more than one area in the UK, you can choose which one to apply to. Think carefully about where you would prefer to live.

If you don't have a local connection anywhere in the UK you should apply to the area where you would prefer to live. 

How to apply 

It's best to apply to the housing department of the council. Check the council website for a phone number or office address.

Find contact details for councils on mygov.scot.

If it’s late at night, look for an 'out of hours' phone number on the website. 

When you speak to someone at the council over the phone or in person, say you're applying for homeless help. 

If you're told you can't apply or you’re turned away at reception, this is wrong. The council has a duty to investigate your application. 

You may be asked to fill out a form. Let them know if you need help completing it, for example because of a learning disability.

The help you're entitled to depends on how your situation meets the legal tests under homeless law. The council will investigate your situation and will probably interview you. 

Interview with a housing officer

This might also be called a homeless assessment or appointment. There's information about how to prepare and what happens at the interview on the Shelter Scotland website

If you're disabled, you could ask for the interview to happen in an accessible office or for a housing officer to visit you.

What help you’ll get from the council

The council will investigate your case and should apply the law to decide what help you're entitled to. If you don’t agree with what the council decides, you can challenge it. 

Temporary housing

The council has a duty to provide temporary housing to anyone who applies for homeless help who it believes is homeless. 

The council has to provide you with temporary housing while you’re waiting for:

  • a decision on your homeless application (if you’re homeless already)
  • permanent accommodation to become available
  • the outcome of a challenge against a council decision
  • a decision about whether you’ll be housed in another part of the UK

If you’re at risk of becoming homeless, you normally won’t get temporary housing, unless you become homeless. 

If the council decides you’re intentionally homeless and not entitled to permanent housing, it can’t ask you to leave temporary housing straight away. You must be allowed to stay for long enough to give you a reasonable opportunity to find somewhere else to live.

You will normally have to pay a reasonable charge for temporary housing. You may need to claim Housing Benefit to help with housing costs

Temporary housing has to meet certain standards for all homeless applicants.  For example, it should usually be within the council area relevant to a work place and have bedrooms, toilets and washing facilities for the exclusive use of the family. It must be suitable for a child to visit if a member of the homeless household has parental rights over a child. You cannot be offered accommodation that is a shared tenancy with a stranger or spare room offered by a member of the community. If you don’t think temporary accommodation is suitable for your needs, get advice

Help to stay in your home

The council has to take steps to prevent you from becoming homeless if you're:

  • at risk of becoming homeless, and
  • it’s not intentional - this means that you didn’t do something that made you lose your home

Depending on your situation, the council might take steps like:

  • checking you're getting all the benefits you're entitled to
  • taking money from your wages to pay off rent arrears rather than evicting you, if you're a council tenant
  • giving help or advice with finding a new place to live before you become homeless

Permanent housing

The council you apply to has to make suitable permanent accommodation available in the area for you, and the people you can expect to live with, if you: 

  • are legally homeless 
  • aren't intentionally homeless - this means that you didn’t do something that made you lose your home
  • have a local connection to the area (or the council decides not to check if you have a local connection, or you don't have a local connection to anywhere in the UK)

Councils can provide permanent housing in different ways. You might be offered a council house, a private tenancy, or you might have to bid for a home you want to rent.  

The permanent housing you get will usually be a long-term tenancy. You'll normally need to pay rent and sign a tenancy agreement. You might be able to claim benefits to help with your housing costs. 

The permanent housing might be in a different area of the UK if the council decides that no one in your household has a local connection to the area you applied to. If another council agrees you have a local connection in its area, you may be offered permanent housing there instead. You can challenge this decision. 

You can't be referred to another council if you, or someone you live with, would be at risk of domestic abuse there. 

If a housing support assessment shows that you need more support, the council can offer you transitional housing rather than permanent housing. For example, if you need support for drug or alcohol misuse. 

What intentionally homeless means

The council may decide to look at the reasons you’re homeless or at risk of losing your home. Intentional homelessness means that the council thinks that you contributed to your homelessness. For example, if you were evicted for antisocial behaviour.

The council can only decide you’re intentionally homeless, or are going to be, if it can prove:

  • you deliberately did or didn’t do something
  • what you did or didn’t do caused your homelessness (or will cause it)
  • you were aware of all the facts before you acted, or didn’t act
  • it would have been, or is, reasonable for you to stay there

The council should only decide you’re intentionally homeless if it can prove all of these.

The council has to look at the reasons behind what you did or didn’t do. You shouldn’t be considered intentionally homeless if you didn't act deliberately or it was beyond your control. For example, if you didn't know your partner had stopped paying the rent or you were antisocial because of your mental illness.

Whether the council decides if you're intentionally homeless will depend on the facts of your case, although there are some situations where you should never be considered intentionally homeless. For example, if you’re fleeing domestic abuse. 

There’s more detailed information about intentional homelessness on Shelter Scotland’s website

If the council decides you’re intentionally homeless

If the council decides that you’re intentionally homeless, it means you won’t have a right to permanent housing, or help from the council to prevent your homelessness. 

But the council does have to provide:

  • advice and assistance and temporary accommodation for a reasonable amount of time while you look for a new home - if you're already homeless

  • advice and assistance - if you're threatened with homelessness 

If you think the council’s decision is wrong, you could challenge it. Act quickly because you usually only have 21 days to do this. 

If the council says you don't have a local connection

The council is likely to check whether you have a local connection because they have a limited number of homes. 

If you don’t have a local connection, the council may try to find another area in the UK where you do have a local connection. It will ask that council if they can find you permanent housing instead. 

But you can't be referred to another council if you, or someone you live with, would be at risk of domestic abuse there. 

What is a local connection

Local connection means you, or another member of your household, have a link to the area. For example, through: 

  • living there - you’ve been living there by choice for six out of the last twelve months, or at least three out of the last five years 
  • work - you have a job there or need to move there for a job
  • family - for example, if a family member has been living there for at least five years
  • growing up - you want to return to where you grew up or lived for a long time in the past

To form a local connection you must have been living there by choice. Time in the armed forces counts but time in prison, a psychiatric hospital or immigration asylum accommodation doesn't. 

You might have a local connection in another way, depending on your situation. If there's a reason you need to stay in a particular area, get advice to check if it counts as a local connection. 

Some people don't form local connections because they move around. For example, people in gypsy/traveller communities. 

If the council says you don't have a local connection

If you don't want to move to another part of the UK you could challenge the council's decision about your local connection. For example, you could argue that you do have a local connection where you applied. 

You can't be referred to another council if you, or someone you live with, would be at risk of domestic abuse there. 

If you don't have a local connection anywhere in the UK, the council you applied to has to deal with your application and provide you with permanent housing, if you're eligible. 

There's more general information about permanent housing on the Shelter Scotland website

Challenging the council's decisions

The council might decide that you’re not entitled to permanent housing. 

This might be because:

  • you're not legally homeless (or at risk of becoming homeless), or 
  • you're intentionally homeless - you’ve deliberately done or not done something which has made you lose your home

The council might also decide that you’re due permanent housing but in another area, because you don’t have a local connection where you applied. 

You can challenge these decisions and other actions of the council. 

You should get a letter explaining how the council has decided your application and why. You should have at least 21 days from when you get the letter to challenge the decision. 

Get advice as soon as possible. An adviser can review your case and help you decide what arguments to use to challenge the council's decision. 

Get advice

You don’t have to take action alone. An adviser can help you apply to the council for help or challenge a council’s decision about your case.

They could also support you to take action to stay in your home, if that's the right option for you. 

Get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Shelter Scotland

Tell them if you need help urgently. For example, if you've got a date for an eviction hearing or you think you’ll be sleeping rough. 

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