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Homeless people's rights

Homeless people still have rights. You may have rights to get help from the council's housing and social work departments. In addition, you will not lose your rights to claim benefits, access medical help, or vote, if you become homeless.

Help from the housing department

Local councils have specific legal duties towards homeless people.

Advice and assistance

The council has to provide advice and assistance to anyone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness and who approaches the council for help.

Temporary accommodation

If you make a homeless application to the council, it has a duty to provide you with temporary accommodation while it investigates your circumstances and decides if it has a duty to offer you permanent accommodation.

If you are entitled to permanent accommodation, you can stay in your temporary accommodation until the council has found you a home. If you are not entitled to permanent accommodation, you should be allowed to stay in your temporary accommodation to give you time to find a new place to live yourself. The council should offer you advice and help to do this.

Talk to an adviser on the Shelter Scotland free helpline 0808 800 4444 or Citizens Advice if you're not sure of your rights or if the council's housing department is refusing to help you. Use the Advice Services Directory to find help near you.

Help from the social work department

The council's social work department sometimes has duties to help certain groups of people who become homeless. These groups include:

  • some young people aged under 18
  • some care leavers or young people about to leave care
  • people with disabilities
  • people with mental health problems
  • older people.

Social work may be able to help families with children but they are not legally obliged to provide accommodation where everyone can live together. If you are in this situation or have problems getting help from social work, get independent advice. Use the Advice Services Directory to find a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice in your area.

Can I claim benefits?

If you are homeless you are still entitled to claim benefits. If your benefits are paid directly into your bank or post office account, this will continue. If not, you may be able to collect benefit cheques from your nearest DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) or Jobcentre Plus office. Contact your local office to arrange this.

If you are claiming benefits for the first time and you do not have a bank account, you may be able to open an account with the Post Office if you have a forwarding address or an address 'care of' a friend, relative or day centre. If you do not have an address, you should be able to arrange to collect a cheque from your nearest DWP or Jobcentre Plus office.

If you are in a crisis situation, you may also be able to apply for a crisis loan to cover emergency expenses, although you will have to pay this loan back. Whether or not loans are given depends on your situation and the amount of money in the DWP budget.

Contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus office for more information.

Please see the sections on housing and council tax benefits and other benefits for more information, or visit the DWP's A-Z of Benefits.

Can I register with a doctor?

If you are homeless, you are still entitled to register with a doctor. You can do so using a temporary address, such as a friend's place or a day centre. You can find a doctor in your area by:

There are also specialist medical centres for people who are homeless or roofless (sleeping rough). Call Shelter's free housing advice helpline or contact a local advice agency to find out if there is a centre near you.

Can I vote?

If you are homeless, you are still entitled to vote, provided you are over 18 and a UK citizen. Instead of registering at a permanent address, you can register at a temporary address or by making a declaration of local connection. This is a statement that you make to the local electoral office to say where you spend the majority of your time. Find out more about registering to vote at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

What if I'm under 18?

If you are 16 or over you have the right to:

  • leave home
  • claim some benefits
  • apply for a home from the council or a housing association
  • rent property from a private landlord
  • apply to the council as homeless.

However, some of the rules regarding accommodation and benefits are different. For example:

  • Some care leavers and young people under 18 are legally entitled to help from the social work department. The page on help from social work has more information on this.
  • If you are under 35 and do not have children, the level of benefits that you will be entitled to will be lower than if you were over 35. In some circumstances you will only be entitled to housing benefit for a single room rather than a flat or a house. The page on benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds has more on this.

What if I have lived abroad?

People who have lived abroad may have different rights depending on their particular circumstances. If you have lived abroad, whether you are eligible for help will depend on:

  • when you entered the country
  • the purpose of your stay
  • whether you are seeking asylum
  • whether you are a European Union national.

You can get advice about your situation from a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or a specialist immigration adviser. Use the Advice Services Directory to find one in your area.

The important points

  • If you are homeless the council have certain legal duties towards you. 
  • You should be offered temporary whilst the council look into your homelessness application. 
  • You can still claim benefits, vote and register with a doctor if you are homeless.    

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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