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How did you become homeless?

Before it can offer you permanent accommodation, the council must check whether you deliberately did or didn't do something that resulted in you becoming homeless. Did you become intentionally homeless? This page explains what counts as intentional homelessness and what you can do if the council decides you are intentionally 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 intentionally homeless?

It is up to the council to prove that you became homeless intentionally, not for you to prove that you did not. The council has to make inquiries into the reasons that led to you become homeless and it must prove that:

  • you deliberately did or didn't do something
  • that caused you to leave accommodation
  • which you could otherwise have stayed in, and
  • which would have been reasonable for you to stay in.

The council must be satisfied that all four points apply before deciding that you're intentionally homeless. Below you'll find an explanation of these four points. If the council is not sure whether the points apply, you should be given the benefit of the doubt and considered unintentionally homeless.

In order to decide whether you deliberately did or didn't do something to cause your homelessness, the council must look not just at your actions but at the reasons behind your actions.

Examples of intentional homelessness

The council may decide that you deliberately did or didn't do something that caused you to become homeless if:

  • you were evicted for antisocial behaviour
  • you didn't pay the rent or mortgage when you could have afforded to
  • you ignored advice that could have helped you keep your home
  • you left accommodation that you could have continued to stay in for no good reason.

Examples of unintentional homelessness

If the reasons behind your actions were beyond your control, you shouldn't be classed as intentionally homeless.

For example, you wouldn't be intentionally homeless if:

  • you were evicted for antisocial behaviour that was caused by mental illness
  • you didn't pay your rent or mortgage because of financial difficulties which arose because, for example,
    • you were made redundant
    • you fell ill
    • your partner who helped pay the rent moved out
    • you were told that you weren't entitled to benefits when in fact you were
  • you left your home to take up a new job in another area.

I didn't agree to or know about what happened

The council should not decide that you are intentionally homeless if you acted in good faith or if something you weren't aware of caused you to become homeless. This might be the case if:

  • you gave up your home because you didn't know you had a right to stay
  • you didn't know you were entitled to benefits that could have prevented you getting into financial difficulties
  • you were given bad or misleading advice which caused you to leave your home when you didn't have to
  • someone you live with did something without your knowledge. In order for this to apply you would have to show that either:
    • you were unaware of the other person's actions, or
    • you couldn't stop them.

For example, you wouldn't be intentionally homeless if:

  • you and your partner are evicted for rent arrears, but you have been giving your partner money to pay the rent. You then find out that your partner has been spending the money on something else.
  • your flatmate had given up the tenancy on your flat without telling you.

When deciding whether you're intentionally homeless or not, the council should only look at your behaviour. This means that if your partner didn't pay the rent but you didn't know about it, the council would decide that you were unintentionally homeless. This would mean that anyone else included in your homeless application would also be found unintentionally homeless - even your partner.

What is 'accommodation I could otherwise have stayed in'?

To be found intentionally homeless, the accommodation you left must have been available for you to continue to live in, along with:

  • anyone who normally lives with you as a member of your family, and
  • any other person who would normally live with you as a member of your family but can't at present because of your housing situation.

So for example you wouldn't be intentionally homeless if:

  • your landlord has evicted you in order to sell their property, or
  • your partner can't move into your home with you due to lack of space or because other members of your family don't want them there.

What is 'accommodation which is reasonable for me to stay in'?

The council can't decide you are intentionally homeless if it wasn't reasonable for you to stay in the accommodation you left. This could be because:

  • you or someone in your household was experiencing violence or threats that were likely to be carried out
  • your accommodation was of a very poor standard (for example, it didn't have proper sanitary facilities)
  • your accommodation was overcrowded and this was seriously affecting your health
  • you couldn't afford to live there any more
  • of personal reasons, for example:
    • you are a young person living with their parents and they have asked you to leave
    • you have split up with your partner and can no longer live with them.

You may be able to argue that it was unreasonable to expect you to stay even if you don't fit into one of these categories.

Remember, if the council has already decided you are homeless because it was unreasonable for you to stay in your accommodation, they can't then say you became homeless intentionally.

What else will the council look at when making its decision?

When deciding whether or not you're intentionally homeless, the council must look at your whole situation and at the chain of events that led up to you becoming homeless.

The causes of homelessness

When the council is looking at the chain of events, it can only take into account the direct cause of your homelessness. Certain circumstances can break the chain of events. These include:

  • a change in your circumstances (for example, if you have a baby or split up with your partner)
  • a move into settled accommodation.

For example: you are evicted from your council house due to rent arrears, and you move in with your partner. You then split up from your partner and they ask you to move out. In this situation, you would be homeless because of the breakdown of your relationship (a change in your circumstances), not because you were evicted from your council house.

The kind of accommodation you were living in

The council can only look at the reasons you left your last settled home. Hostels, refuges, bed and breakfast hotels and temporary accommodation provided by the council or by friends usually do not count as settled homes. If you have always lived at home with your parents or family, this will probably count as a settled home, but if you return to live with them temporarily, this may not.

For example: you have moved out of rented accommodation because you couldn't afford to pay the rent and moved in with friends. You friends have now asked you to leave. In this case, the council will look at your reasons for leaving your rented accommodation, rather than your friends' home.

Accommodation that you left

For the council to decide that you are intentionally homeless, you must have had to leave your accommodation as a result of what you deliberately did or didn't do. If your actions only stopped you from taking up accommodation (for example, if you didn't make contact with a landlord who had accommodation available) you shouldn't be classed as intentionally homeless.

I'm not intentionally homeless - what happens next?

If the council decides you are not intentionally homeless, you will be entitled to permanent housing. However, the council may decide to refer you to another council to be housed if you don't have a local connection to the area.

What happens if the council says I am intentionally homeless?

The decision letter

If the council considers you are intentionally homeless, it has to inform you in writing. The decision letter should explain:

  • that the council has decided that you are intentionally homeless
  • 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, talk to an adviser at Shelter's free housing advice helpline 0808 800 4444 or Citizens Advice straight away. Intentionality is complicated, and it's possible that the council hasn't looked into your situation properly.

What happens next?

If the council decides that you are intentionally homeless, it has to provide you with:

Go to the section on other options if the council can't help to find out how to go about finding your own accommodation.

Can I get any other help?

If the council decides you are intentionally homeless and you have dependent children, the council may refer you to the social work department to see if they can help you. Social work might be able to help by:

  • providing accommodation
  • helping you to raise money for a deposit
  • offering you a range of services such as practical support, counselling, or help with drug or alcohol problems.

The law doesn't say exactly what help social work has to provide and different councils have different rules. An adviser in your area may be able to give you an idea of the sort of help you might get. Use the Advice Services Directory to find one.

Can I get the council to change its decision?

If you think the council's decision is wrong, get advice quickly. If you want to request a review, you have to do so within 21 days of receiving the decision letter. An adviser will be able to:

  • tell you whether you have a good case for getting the decision reviewed
  • help with the review process
  • help you to take the matter further if the council still refuses to help you
  • negotiate with the council to get your time in temporary accommodation extended
  • help you find somewhere else to live if you can't change the council's decision.

If you do ask for a review, the council should let you to stay in your temporary accommodation until it has been carried out.

Use the Advice Services Directory to find a local advice agency in your area.

The important points

  • To fail this test you have to have done something you KNEW would lead to you becoming homeless.
  • The council must take all of your circumstances into account. 
  • If the council are not sure then they must give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • If you disagree with their decision you have 21 days to ask for a review.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444*
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

*Our advice line is free to call from landlines and all six of the main UK mobile networks, Virgin, Orange, 3, T-mobile, Vodafone and O2, but charges may apply from any other network


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