Homelessness and children
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
Becoming homeless can be particularly traumatic if you have a family. This page looks at how the council can help you, and where you can get additional support for you and your children.
The rules that govern homelessness legislation changed at the end of 2012. The major change was the ending of the priority need test, this means that if you are assessed as unintentionally homeless you have the right to a home. This page has been updated to reflect these changes.
I'm homeless with children
If you are homeless with children and you have nowhere to stay or you are worried that you may become homeless, try not to panic. Help is available for you and your family.
Your local council has to offer you and your children help. You will have to make a homeless application to your council. If the council offices are closed, there should be an emergency number you can call to get help. The address of your nearest office and the emergency number should be listed in the Advice Services Directory or on your council's website.
You can find out more about making a homeless application.
I'm being evicted
Whether you have children or not and you rent from the council, a housing association or from a private landlord, your landlord can't throw you out over night.
If your landlord doesn't go through the right procedure, or if they try to force you and your children out by making your life uncomfortable or miserable, the eviction will be illegal, and you should call the police. You can find out more about illegal eviction.
Even if you and your children haven't had to leave your home yet, you can go to the council to make a homeless application. If it's likely that you and your children are going to become homeless within the next two months, the council should still accept your application, and may even be able to help stop the eviction happening.
Help from the council
The council can't offer a new home to everyone who appears to be homeless. There are several 'tests' you will need to pass before you will be eligible for a permanent home. You can download a flowchart that shows you how the tests work.
Will the council offer me and my children a place to stay?
if you have children and you make a homeless application, the council will have to offer you a place to stay. This is called temporary accommodation. You and your children will be allowed to stay while the council looks into your situation. You can find out more about the inquiries the council has to make.
Temporary accommodation may be in a house or flat, and, in certain situations, may be in a bed and breakfast. However, if you are pregnant, or have children, you should not be placed in a bed and breakfast unless:
- you are homeless because of an emergency, such as a flood, or fire
- you have specifically asked to be placed in an area where there is no other temporary accommodation available, for example to be near friends or family, or your children's school.
You can also be placed in a bed and breakfast if:
- you made your homeless application outside normal office hours, or
- the council does not have any suitable temporary accommodation for you.
However, if you have children, you should not have to stay there for more than 14 days.
In addition, the council should try not to move you about while you're in temporary accommodation.
You can find out more about temporary accommodation and what to do about storing your belongings and looking after any pets.
What if I pass all the homelessness tests?
If you pass all the tests, the council will offer you and your children a permanent home. This could be a council house or flat, or a tenancy with a housing association or private landlord, and can be located anywhere in the council's area. It may take a while for a suitable home to become available, but you and your children will be able to stay in your temporary accommodation until your permanent accommodation is arranged.
What will the accommodation be like?
When the council is arranging temporary or permanent accommodation for you and your children, it has to act in the best interests of your children. This means it has to make sure that the accommodation is suitable for your children. This could include:
- ensuring the accommodation is near their current school, or, if this is not possible, another suitable school
- if your children have any medical needs, ensuring the accommodation is near services that can help them
- trying to provide you with accommodation near to your family or other support networks, and your children's friends
- ensuring, if possible, that your children have a quiet place to do their homework and access to somewhere to play.
The homelessness officer should do their best to involve your children in the application process and find out what they want from their new home.
What if I don't pass the homelessness tests?
If you don't pass all of the tests and the council decides it can't offer you and your children a permanent home, you will be allowed to stay in your temporary accommodation to give you time to find your own accommodation. The council should also help you find somewhere.
The council must tell you about its decision in writing. Show the letter to a housing adviser: if the reasons are not adequate or don't properly take into account you and your children's situation, an adviser may be able to help you challenge the decision.
A housing adviser can also go through your housing options with you and help you and your children find somewhere else to live. For example, they may be able to help you get a deposit and advance rent for a flat. Use the Advice Services Directory to find help near you.
Can social work help me?
The housing department may refer you and your children to social work if:
- it doesn't have a duty to help you but believes social work does, or
- it does have a duty to help you but believes social work can also help.
Social work has a responsibility to find accommodation for any children under the age of 18 who does not have a suitable place to live. However, the type of help social work provides can vary because it is not defined in law. For example, social work might help you raise money for a deposit so you can rent a place.
The council should have a procedure in place to ensure that you and your children aren't passed endlessly between the housing and social work departments, with neither taking responsibility for your case. If you need help dealing with social work, talk to an adviser at Shelter or Citizens Advice. Use the Advice Services Directory to find help near you.
What if the council won't help me?
If the council won't help you and your children or you find it difficult to deal with the council, call Shelter's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 , Citizens Advice, or other local agency. You can use the Advice Services Directory to find an agency near you.
The council may not be offering you and your children the help the law says you should get. An adviser will be able to look at your situation and help you get what you're entitled to.
Children and school
Homelessness can be a disruptive experience for children. It's therefore a good idea to talk to your child's teacher and let them know what's going on, so they can offer extra help and support. For example, if your children don't have anywhere suitable to do their homework, their teacher may arrange for them to join an after school homework club.
If your children need extra help because of the disruption caused by homelessness, they have a right additional support for learning. You can find out more about this from Enquire. There is also information specifically for schools on supporting homeless children on the homeless children website.
If you and your children are staying in temporary accommodation a long way away from your children's school, the council may help with travel costs.
If you are moving to a new area permanently, your children may need to change schools. To locate your nearest schools and find out more about them, visit the Scottish Schools Online website You can find out more about changing schools and how to make it easier for your children from Parentzone.
What financial help is available for parents?
The page on financial support for parents looks at sources of income that may be available, including benefits, tax credits, maintenance and help with health costs.
What if I'm pregnant?
If you're pregnant, you may be entitled to different benefits, help and support. Our page on housing rights and pregnancy has more information.
What if I look after a disabled child?
The page on caring for a disabled child in the carers' section has more information on what your rights are and where you can get help and support.
Where can I get advice and support?
There are many organisations providing help and support for families with children experiencing homelessness or living in temporary accommodation. You can use the Advice Services Directory to find an help near you.