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If you're homeless or at risk of homelessness

This advice applies to Scotland

Help you can get if you're homeless

If you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness you can apply to the council for help. There are legal tests under homeless law that the council uses to decide what help it must give you.

The council must find temporary housing for anyone who applies while they’re looking into your situation. It might have a legal duty to help you get permanent housing or take steps to prevent you from becoming homeless. 

This page explains how to make a homeless application and how the council decides whether you qualify for help. 

To be eligible for homeless help you have to have the right to reside in the UK. If you're not sure about the immigration status of you or someone in the household, you should get specialist immigration advice before you apply. For example, if you are a refugee, an asylum seeker, don't have British Citizenship or have recently arrived/returned to the UK. 

Step 1: Where to get help

How to get help depends on whether you have somewhere safe to stay tonight or have time to get advice before you make an application. 

If you'll be sleeping rough tonight

If it's an emergency and you need somewhere to stay tonight, you don't have to sleep rough.

You should make an emergency homelessness application to the council. They should have an out-of-hours phone number on their website that you can call if it's late at night.

Find your local council's website using mygov.scot.

You could also stay in emergency accommodation, like a hostel or B&B. Find out more about emergency accommodation on the Shelter Scotland website

If you're fleeing from an abusive partner or ex-partner, read more about finding somewhere safe to stay.  

Next you should get advice about your homeless application from:

If you have somewhere safe to sleep tonight

If you have some breathing space, it's important to get advice about your options. Applying as homeless might be the best option or you could get help to:

  • take action to stay in your home - for example, stop your eviction
  • resolve family disputes 
  • stay in housing you have a right to be in - for example, if someone has changed the locks

You can get independent advice and information from:

Let an adviser know how urgent your housing problem is. For example, if you have a date for an eviction hearing at court. 

You should get advice in person, by email or by phone from an adviser at your local citizens advice bureau to make sure your application is correct and more likely to be successful. 

Check what to bring to a bureau and take details of:

  • eviction notices or mortgage arrears
  • members of your household - names, ages
  • disabilities you or members of your household have
  • benefits you or members of your household get
  • evidence of ties to the area you want to apply to, like work or other family.

If you're under 18 

If you're under 18 you can become homeless for a number of reasons, like a breakdown of a relationship with a parent. You don't have to sleep on the streets. You could come under the council's duties to keep children safe and well.

You should contact the local social work department to ask for help. The number to call should be on the council website. Find your local council using mygov.scot.

If you ask for help as a child you'll be assessed for what you and your family need. 

If you're 16-18

If you're 16-18 you could choose to apply to the council as a homeless adult instead. This might be an option if you've already been living apart from your family, but you might not get all the services you would get if you applied as a child. 

Get advice

Shelter has advice about leaving home

You can get independent advice and information about homelessness from:

Step 2: Check if you're homeless or at risk of homelessness under the law 

You might be:

  • legally homeless 
  • threatened with homelessness - if you aren't yet homeless but are likely to be within 2 months. Check the examples

If you are, you could apply to the council for homeless help.

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

Are you legally homeless

You don’t have to be sleeping rough to be considered homeless. 

You are homeless if you have nowhere to stay or you technically have a roof to sleep under but the situation you're in makes it it unreasonable for you to stay there because, for example:

  • you might be assaulted, harassed or threatened - by someone who lives there or who used to live with you (domestic abuse) 
  • it's not accessible for your disability
  • there's a substantial risk to your health (including mental health)
  • it’s overcrowded and may endanger your health 
  • there's nowhere to pitch or moor it – if it’s a caravan, mobile home or a boat 
  • it means living apart from people - it has to be people you normally live with
  • you can't get access to it
  • it’s temporary - provided by the council

Are you threatened with homelessness?

You might be threatened with homelessness if you’re:

  • asked to leave by a friend or family member
  • leaving prison and have nowhere to stay
  • leaving care and have nowhere to stay
  • struggling with money so that you're at risk of losing a home you rent or own
  • asked to leave by your landlord
  • get an eviction notice

If you're threatened with homelessness, you could:

  • apply to the council for homeless help - you don't have to wait until you're homeless to apply 
  • take action to stay in your home 

You might be able to take action to stay in your home, for example:

If you're at risk of becoming homeless you need to act quickly. Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau about what action is right for you. 

Step 3: Before you apply

Before applying you need to think about:

  • which council to apply to  - where do you have a local connection?

  • who should apply from your household - who meets the homeless criteria best?

Which council to apply to

If you're threatened with homelessness, apply to the council for the area you're living in.

If you're homeless, apply where you can show a local connection to the area.

You can show this if you:

  • have been living there for 6 out of the last 12 months, or at least 3 out of the last 5 years
  • are employed there (including service in the armed forces) or need to move there to take up a job

  • have family associations with the area

  • need to have access to special schools, hospitals, carers, linguistic communities or LGBT+ communities

  • want to return to where you were brought up or lived for a long time in the past

  • have children in care in the area

Who should apply

If you're applying to be housed alone, you'll apply as a single person. You should apply where you can show you have a local connection. If you have a local connection with more than one area, you can choose 1 or apply to more than 1.

If you're a couple or there are other members of your household, you'll need to check how each adult meets the homeless criteria. The person who applies should be the person who best meets the homeless criteria. For example, the person who can show a strong local connection with an area. 

If the council decides that one member of your household doesn't meet 1 of the criteria, another member of the household can apply.

Step 4: Apply to the council for homeless help

You apply to the housing department of the council, either in person or in writing. The council will investigate your case and will probably interview you. Find contact details of councils on mygov.scot.

If you try to make an application but you're told you can't apply until you're homeless, this is wrong. It can help to provide evidence that you're at risk of homelessness within 2 months, like an eviction notice.

If you can't visit the local housing office, for example because you're ill or have mobility problems, you should ask for a homelessness officer to visit you.

The council has a duty to investigate every application. You shouldn't be turned away without your situation being properly investigated. You can go back and insist on being able to apply as homeless.

There's information about how to make a homelessness application and what happens next on the Shelter Scotland website

Getting temporary housing while your application is considered

The council must make sure you have somewhere to live while it investigates your situation. You can stay in your current home until you have to leave.

If you're facing eviction, you normally don't legally have to leave until an eviction order is enforced by a sheriff officer. The council should then offer you temporary accommodation.

Step 5: The council decides if you're homeless or threatened with homelessness

It's the council's duty to investigate any application. You don't have to prove you're homeless or threatened with homelessness, the council has to prove you're not. 

If the council decides you're not legally homeless 

You'll get a letter telling you the council's decision and its reasons. If it finds you're not legally homeless or threatened with homelessness it doesn't have to provide you with housing. You can challenge this by asking for a review of the decision within 21 days of getting the decision letter. 

Challenging a decision can be complicated so get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. 

If the council decides you're legally homeless or threatened with homelessness

It will continue to consider your application and whether you're intentionally homeless - see Step 6. 

If you don't have anywhere to stay you should get temporary accommodation while your application is investigated. 

Step 6: Are you intentionally homeless

You may be considered 'intentionally homeless' if you have deliberately done something which has made you lose your home. For example, if you've been evicted because you deliberately didn't pay your rent. 

Find out more about intentional homelessness on the Shelter Scotland website

If the council decides you're intentionally homeless 

You'll get a letter telling you the council's decision and its reasons. If you're found to be intentionally homeless you won't be owed permanent housing. 

But it does have to provide:

  • temporary accommodation while you look for a new home - if you're already homeless
  • advice and assistance - if you're threatened with homelessness 

You can challenge the council's decision by asking for a review within 21 days of getting the decision letter. Challenging a decision can be complicated so get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. 

If the council decides you're not intentionally homeless

If the council decides you aren't intentionally homeless, you are entitled to help to get suitable permanent housing or help to make sure you don't become homeless. Check what help you can get from the council.

The council might accept the responsibility to house you or it might try to pass this to another council by applying a further test - whether you have a local connection to the area. 

Step 7: Do you have a local connection to the area you're applying to

The local authority may refuse to accept responsibility for helping you get permanent housing if it thinks that you don't have a connection with the area.

You would usually be expected to live, work or have family links to have a local connection. Find out what a local connection means and what happens next on the Shelter Scotland website

If you've passed the other tests and you have a local connection you should be offered permanent housing. 

What help will you can get from the council

Once you apply to the council, there are legal tests under homeless law that the council uses to decide what help it must give you. The help you could get depends on whether you're at risk of losing a place to live or already homeless. 

If you're at risk of homelessness - eviction etc

If you're at risk of homelessness, and not intentionally homeless, the council has to take steps to prevent you from becoming homeless. 

The council might:

  • check you're getting all the benefits you're entitled to
  • take money from your wages to pay off rent arrears rather than evicting you, if you're a council tenant
  • help you with mortgage arrears by negotiating with your lender
  • help you find a new place to live before you become homeless

If you're already homeless 

The council has to help you get suitable permanent accommodation in the area if you: 

  • are legally homeless 
  • aren't intentionally homeless
  • have a local connection to the area

Each of these steps has a specific legal meaning, explained on this page. 

It must also provide temporary housing while it decides your application. 

The permanent accommodation will usually be a long-term tenancy and you'll normally still need to pay rent and keep up your responsibilities under the tenancy agreement. To get a house, you might have to bid for one you want to live in.  

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

If you're turned down for permanent housing or help to stay in your home

You should speak to an adviser at your local citizens advice bureau. They may be able to help you appeal the decision. Act quickly because there are time limits. 

If you're found to be intentionally homeless, you should a reasonable amount of time in temporary accommodation to find another place to live. 

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