Are you homeless?
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
The first thing the council must find out is whether you actually are homeless or about to become homeless. Being homeless doesn't just mean sleeping on the streets - you don't have to be roofless to be considered homeless. You could be staying with friends or family or the place you are living in might not be suitable for you. This page explains how the council will decide if you are homeless.
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.
Am I homeless?
You may be homeless if:
- you have no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world where you and your family can live together, or
- you have no rights to live in the place you are currently staying, or
- the place where you are currently living is unsuitable or unsafe.
This means that even if you have got somewhere to stay, you may still be homeless in the eyes of the council.
I have no home where I and my family can live together
You may be homeless if it isn't possible for your immediate family and anyone else who normally lives with you to live together in your accommodation. This might be because:
- your accommodation is too small, or
- your landlord doesn't allow children, or
- you want an elderly parent or grandparent to live with you but your home is not suitable for their needs.
People in your household can include:
- your husband/wife or civil partner
- an opposite sex or same sex partner
- children (including foster children, step children, and other children treated by you as your own)
- nephews and nieces
- brothers and sisters
- aunts and uncles
- any of the above who are related to your spouse or partner
- members of your household who are not related to you, such as live-in carers or companions.
You don't have to have lived with the family member before. For example, you may wish your partner's children or your grandparents to move in with you so you can look after them.
I've got no right to stay where I am
This may be the case if you are staying somewhere but are not paying rent or do not have any kind of tenancy agreement. For example, you may be homeless if:
- you are sleeping on a friend's sofa
- you are staying temporarily with friends or relatives
- you live with your parents but they want you to leave
- you are squatting or staying somewhere without permission from the owner
- you have been evicted by your landlord
- your home has been repossessed by your mortgage lender.
It isn't reasonable for me to stay in my home
What does 'reasonable' mean? Well, this will depend on your individual circumstances. A home that is suitable for adults may not be suitable for a family with young children, or for someone with disabilities.
It may not be reasonable for you to stay in your home because:
- you or anyone else in your family are experiencing violence or threats. This includes domestic abuse and violence or harassment (such as racial harassment) from people outside your home, for example neighbours. You will be asked to provide details and dates of any violent incidents, but the council will never approach the violent person to ask them about the incidents. You don't have to press charges against the violent person or provide police reports, but any evidence you can provide will be helpful.
- you are living somewhere that isn't designed to be permanent accommodation, for example in a hostel, nightshelter, refuge or bed and breakfast hotel
- your home is making you ill (for example, because it is too cold or damp and is causing asthma) or is making you clinically depressed
- your home is of a much poorer standard than most other housing in the area
- you or someone in your household has special needs and your home isn't adapted suitably
- you have split up with your partner and cannot reasonably continue to live with them (although you may find it hard to argue this).
Other reasons why you may be homeless
I can't get into my accommodation
The council should consider you to be homeless if you are unable to get into your accommodation. This could be because your landlord, partner or someone else you live with has changed the locks and will not let you back in.
My home is overcrowded and bad for my health
You may be homeless if your home is overcrowded and the situation is damaging your mental or physical well-being. Bear in mind that there is a strict definition of overcrowding, so even if you think there are too many people living in your home, it may not be legally overcrowded.
There's nowhere to put my mobile home or houseboat
The council should consider you to be homeless if you live in a moveable structure such as a residential caravan or houseboat, but have nowhere to keep it.
I am threatened with homelessness
You can also get help from the council if you are likely to become homeless within two months, for example, if your landlord gets a court order to evict you and you have to leave within two months.
What happens if the council decides I am homeless?
What happens if the council decides I'm threatened with homelessness?
If you are threatened with homelessness, the council should first try to help you keep your home or find a new home so you don't become homeless. For example, it could:
- tell you whether you have any rights to stay in your current home and help you enforce those rights. This may be the case if your landlord or someone else in your home is trying to evict you illegally.
- help you sort out any family problems that may result in your becoming homeless, for example through mediation
- help you negotiate with your landlord. For example, if you have rent arrears, the council could help you arrange a payment plan with your landlord.
- help you negotiate with your mortgage lender to prevent repossession
- provide you with information about the mortgage to rent scheme
- advise you on repairs or adaptations that could be made to your home to make it more suitable for you
- help you find a new place to live before you become homeless.
The council should provide you with advice and assistance to find a permanent solution to your situation; it shouldn't just help you postpone homelessness. Get advice if you think this is happening.
What if the council can't help me keep my home?
If you are unable to prevent the eviction, for example if your landlord gets a court order to evict you, the council has a duty to help you as if you were already homeless. It should not wait until you are evicted before looking into your situation.
Once the council has established that you are threatened with homelessness, it must go on to the second homelessness test, to find out whether you became homeless intentionally.
Where should I stay while the council is carrying out its inquiries?
You should stay in your current home until you have to leave. The council should then offer you temporary accommodation.
What if the council decides I'm not homeless or threatened with homelessness?
The decision letter
If the council decides that you aren't homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must write to you to let you know. The decision letter should explain:
- that the council has decided that you aren't homeless or threatened with homelessness
- why it came to this decision
- that you have 21 days to ask for a review of this decision.
If the reasons the council gives are wrong or unclear, get advice immediately. It is possible that the council hasn't looked into your situation properly.
What happens next?
The council should offer you some advice about your situation and the other housing options open to you. However, the council will not be responsible for finding you a new place to live.
Go to the section on other options if the council can't help to find out what you can do next and remember, you can always get advice from the Shelter helpline, Citizens Advice or other advice agency.
Can I get the council to change its decision?
If you think the council's decision is wrong, get advice quickly. If you want the council to review its decision, you have to ask it to do so within 21 days of receiving the decision letter. An adviser may be able to:
- look into the reasons for the decision and help you work out whether you have a good chance of getting the council to change its decision
- help you put together the information you will need to provide for the review
- make sure the council provides you with accommodation until the review is completed
- help you to take the matter further if the council still refuses to help you
- help you find somewhere else to live if the council will not accept that you are homeless.
Use the Advice Services Directory to find details the Shelter helpline, Citizens Advice or other independent advice agencies in your area.