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How To Access Emergency Housing

By IntFormalities
Updated on August 13, 2023
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Homelessness is an unpleasant scenario. The situation is potentially far worse for people who’ve become homeless without much notice. In the UK, the local council is obligated to assist homeless people. If you’ve become homeless, you can seek out an emergency shelter. In this article, we look at emergency housing in depth. Carry on reading if you wish to know more.

How To Access Emergency Housing in the UK
Emergency housing is a last resort to ensure people are not left to fend for themselves in the street while they wait for a more long-term solution, like these council flats.

Emergency Housing: What Is It?

Anyone who has become homeless can ask for help from their local council. As the local authority looks into your case, they could offer emergency shelter. It is a temporary short-term solution, while the council works with you to find a longer-term answer.

Who Is Eligible for Emergency Housing?

There are certain basic requirements a person needs to meet. You must:

  • Be homeless under the legal definition
  • Meet immigration requirements
  • Be a priority case

From a legal perspective, homelessness is not limited to people living rough on the streets. Homelessness includes people who may not have a place to live in the next 8 weeks. Additionally, individuals living in unsafe or bad conditions are classified as homeless. It could be because of a threat of violence or their home is in a state of disrepair.

Immigration Requirements

To meet the immigration conditions, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Be a British or Irish citizen
  • Possess indefinite leave to remain
  • Have humanitarian protection or refugee status
  • Be an individual with settled status through the European Union settlement scheme
  • Meet the leave to remain status through public funds

The council is not obliged to help people who do not satisfy these immigration requirements.

Priority Cases

Some people are classified as a priority needs group. These are people who:

  • Are subject to domestic abuse
  • Have dependent children or are pregnant
  • Have become homeless as a result of natural disasters such as floods or fire
  • Are aged sixteen or seventeen
  • Are aged between eighteen to twenty and in care at sixteen or seventeen
  • Classed as vulnerable. These individuals will include people:
    • With learning disabilities or mental health issues
    • With severe health conditions or physical disabilities
    • Who are old age pensioners
    • Who have spent time in the armed forces, care, or prison
    • Escaping violence from a person that is not a relative or partner

The local council makes an allowance to help the priority group because of their extreme situation and circumstances.

Non-Priority Cases

Some people are homeless and meet the immigration requirements but are not on the priority list. They should still apply for emergency shelter as the council could potentially offer assistance.

How Do I Access Emergency Housing?

Make an application by contacting your local council. You can find the contact details on this website. It is best to speak to the council on the phone or visit them in person. They will ask you if you require emergency refuge, why your situation is urgent, and if you fall into the priority group. Tell them “I need somewhere to live ASAP” in order to receive prompt help.

Types of Housing on Offer

If the council accepts your request for emergency shelter, you will be offered accommodation. The quality of the housing is likely to be basic. The offer could be a:

  • Self-contained flat
  • Bed and breakfast or a hotel
  • Refuge or a hostel with some shared facilities

People with families and children are more likely to receive self-contained units rather than an accommodation with shared areas such as a bathroom or kitchen.


The council will strive to find emergency shelter within the local area. Sometimes finding housing within the council’s boundaries is difficult, and you’ll be offered housing in a different location. Before providing accommodation in another area, the local authority will consider factors such as:

  • Commute time and distance to work
  • Disturbance to children’s schooling
  • Caring responsibilities and local connections
  • Commute to essential appointments such as hospital visits

Emergency Housing Payment

Though there is no upfront payment for emergency housing, the costs are recouped through the benefits system. You may have to apply for Universal Credit or Housing Benefits to help with the rent costs. 

What’s Next After Emergency Housing?

Emergency shelter is a short-term solution, while the council works with you to find longer-term accommodation. After offering emergency accommodation, the council will create a personal housing plan to find long-term housing. It could feature things such as:

  • Assistance to claim benefits for support and sustenance
  • Dealing with your current landlord to continue to stay on your property
  • Providing a deposit to rent in the private sector

If within 8 weeks you have yet to find alternative accommodation, the council will decide if you qualify for main housing duty.

Main Housing Duty

If the council decides you are genuinely homeless with no other avenue, and are a priority case, they will accept you for main housing duty. Here the person is offered temporary accommodation until the council can fulfil its duty and provide a long-term permanent home. How long will you stay in temporary housing? It is not unusual for a person to be in this type of accommodation for a long time before the council is able to offer a permanent home.

Get Support To Avoid Homelessness

Emergency housing is a last resort to ensure people are not left to fend for themselves in the street. Run by the local council, it provides accommodation while people find longer-term solutions to their housing problems. Depending on personal situations, this scheme may grant you access to a self-contained flat, a bed and breakfast, a hotel room, a refuge, or a hostel with some shared facilities.

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