Domestic abuse and homelessness
If you become homeless due to domestic abuse, you can get help from your local council, or from a council in another area. You don't have to be roofless to be homeless - you may be staying with friends and family, or living in a refuge, hostel or bed and breakfast hotel.
What should I do if I end up homeless?
If you find yourself with nowhere to stay as a result of domestic abuse, there are several things you can do:
- Contact your local council or a council in another area and make a homeless application. If you become homeless out of office hours, the council should have a 24-hour emergency number you can call. You can find this number listed in the Advice Services Directory or on your council's website.
- Call the 24-hour Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 027 1234. An adviser should be able to find you a place in a refuge or other safe accommodation.
- Call Shelter's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444.
How can the council help me?
If you have nowhere to live and make a homeless application to the council, they have to offer you somewhere temporary to stay while they look into your situation and decide what kind of help you are entitled to. This temporary accommodation may be in a house or flat, a refuge or hostel. In emergency situations, it may be in a bed and breakfast hotel.
If you are under the age of 18 or have children, you may also be able to get help from the social work department.
What happens when I make a homeless application?
When you go to the council to make a homeless application, you will be asked to fill in a form. If English isn't your first language or you have any difficulty reading and writing, you can ask for help with this. You should then be given an appointment to see a homelessness officer. You can ask to be interviewed by a homelessness officer of either sex.
You can take a friend along to the interview for support, and you can also ask for an interpreter to translate for you if English is not your first language or you use sign language.
The homelessness officer should deal with your application sensitively. If you are very upset and don't feel you can explain your whole situation at the interview, the officer should make arrangements for you to move into your temporary accommodation and then have a second interview later on. They should also be able to put you in touch with other local agencies such as Scottish Women's Aid, who can offer you further support and assistance.
Find out more about what to expect when you make an application.
What does the council need to look at?
When you make a homeless application, there are several 'tests' you have to pass in order to get a new permanent home from the council. If you are escaping a violent or abusive relationship, you are likely to pass all these tests. This applies to men and women in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships, and to people escaping abuse or violence from other family members, for example a parent or guardian.
The council considers abuse to be any form of violence or harassment, or any behaviour that is causing or is likely to cause fear, alarm or distress, or physical or mental damage.
Are you homeless?
If you have fled your home because of violence or abuse and have nowhere else to live, you should be classed as homeless by the council because it was not reasonable for you to stay in your home. This will be the case even if you have legal rights to return to your home.
Remember, you don't have to be sleeping on the street to be homeless. Staying with friends and family or in a refuge, hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast does not count as a settled home, so the council will consider you to be homeless if you are in this situation.
If you decide to return to your home and start legal proceedings to exclude your partner or keep them away from you, the council may be able to advise you on this. Even if you do have a right to return home, the council should never expect you to do so if you or your children are at risk of violence or abuse there. If you feel the council is trying to push you to return home, get advice from a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or women's aid worker. An adviser may be able to negotiate with the council on your behalf.
Are you intentionally homeless?
The council also needs to find out whether you deliberately did (or didn't do) something which caused you to become homeless. If you have left your home due to violence or abuse, you cannot be classed as intentionally homeless.
Do you have a local connection?
If you don't want to be rehoused in your local area due to a risk of continued violence or abuse, you can apply to a council in another area. The council you apply to will not be able to refer you back to your local council if you are at risk in that area.
How do I prove to the council that I've fled domestic abuse?
When you explain your situation, the council will ask you to provide details and dates of any violent or abusive incidents, but they will never approach your abuser to ask them about the incidents. You don't have to press charges against your abuser or provide police reports, but any evidence you can provide will be helpful. If you can't produce evidence to back up what you say, the council should take your fears as proof enough.
Will they tell anyone about my situation?
The council will only contact other agencies (for example, Women's Aid or social work) if you give them written permission. The only exception is if a child is at risk of sexual abuse. In this case, the homelessness officer must report the situation to social work.
Can I apply to the council's housing waiting list?
Yes. When you make your homeless application, it's a good idea to put your name down on the council's housing waiting list at the same time. Make sure you make it clear to the housing department that you want to do both.
When you make your application, ask if there is a common housing register for your area. This is a joint waiting list for housing from the council and also from other registered social landlords (housing associations and housing cooperatives) in your area. Joining a common housing register has two advantages:
- It saves you time and trouble, as you won't have to make separate applications to the council and to all the individual housing associations and co-ops in your area.
- It increases your chances of getting accommodation.
If there isn't a common housing register where you are, you will need to apply to each housing association separately.
Housing waiting lists don't work on a 'first come, first served' basis. Instead, the council or registered social landlord (RSL) will assess how much you need a new home, and prioritise applicants according to their need. Some councils and RSLs may prioritise people who are fleeing abuse.
What other options are open to me?
You may also consider:
You can find out more about housing options if you're homeless.