This page looks at the different kinds of emergency housing available, including hostels, nightshelters and refuges.
Temporary accommodation from the council
If you have nowhere to stay, your local council has to provide you with somewhere to stay while they investigate whether they have a duty to offer you permanent accommodation. To be offered temporary accommodation you have to make a homeless application to the council.
Although the council has a duty to provide you with temporary accommodation, you will sometimes be told that there is none available. If this happens, contact an adviser, who will ensure you receive the accommodation you are legally entitled to. However, if there is nowhere available locally, you may have to stay outside of the council's area.
What other options are open to me?
The other emergency housing options are:
- hostels, nightshelters and winter shelters
- domestic violence and women's refuges
- bed and breakfast hotels.
The right option for you will depend on how much money you have to pay for accommodation, how big your family is and whether you have any special needs. An adviser will be able to help you find the appropriate option for you. Use the Advice Services Directory to find an advice centre near you. You can also search for emergency accommodation and find out how to get a place using the Homeless UK website.
There are a variety of different types and sizes of hostels run by public and private sector landlords and voluntary organisations such as the Salvation Army and Bethany Christian Trust. Hostels are usually only a short term solution. Call Shelter's free housing advice helpline to find out about hostels in your area or search the Homeless UK website.
Direct access hostels
These are designed to offer easily accessible accommodation, and are sometimes open 24 hours a day. However, there may be certain entry criteria or restrictions, for example, some hostels:
- only accept referrals from day centres and outreach teams.
- have entry criteria based on age and gender.
- ask you to produce proof of benefits and a form of ID before you can stay. If you do not have either, the staff should be able to help you get them, but you might not be able to stay until you have them.
Although some hostels will accept direct approaches from homeless people, they fill up very quickly, so you'll need to contact them early in the day to get yourself a place.
What is hostel accommodation like?
Accommodation varies from hostel to hostel. Residents might have their own room, they might share a room or they may sleep in dormitories. Some hostels have strict rules, and you may have to leave the hostel during the day and/or be in quite early each night.
Generally, hostels provide:
- meals or cooking facilities
- a laundry room
- washing facilities
- a games/TV room.
How much will it cost?
Direct access hostels are not free and can be quite expensive. However, the advantage is that no deposit or rent in advance is required.
If you're claiming income support or are on a low income, you should be able to claim Housing Benefit to cover some of the cost of staying in the hostel but, depending on the level of services provided (for example, food, cleaning or laundry), Housing Benefit will not cover the full cost. Hostel staff should be able to help you make a claim.
Longer term hostels
Longer-term hostels usually have waiting lists or will only accept referrals from certain agencies. They are often for specific groups of people, for example young homeless people or people with particular problems such as mental health problems or alcohol dependency. These hostels offer many different services, such as:
- counselling and advice
- support in developing independent living skills
- help finding work or training
- help with benefits.
They are run by various organisations, including charities, housing associations and local authorities.
Nightshelters and winter shelters
Nightshelters provide basic accommodation and are usually restricted in their opening hours and the number of nights you can stay. They are designed to provide easy access accommodation for people who sleep on the streets but who want a few nights' respite. Residents normally have to leave in the morning and can't return until the evening.
During winter some charities, voluntary organisations and councils set up temporary cold weather shelters, often in makeshift premises such as old offices and schools. They normally provide only a bed (or even just a mattress on the floor) and food, and are open in the evenings and overnight. They are generally free of charge. Most winter shelters are open for a few weeks during the coldest months or over the Christmas period.
If you have to leave your home because of domestic abuse or threats, you may want to stay at a refuge. The section on domestic abuse has lots of information on your options, and lists organisations that can offer help and support.
Help for men fleeing domestic violence
If you are a man experiencing domestic violence you may find there is less specialist housing available for you, but you should still contact your local council, the Shelter advice service or Citizens Advice to see what is available in your area.
What rights will I have in emergency accommodation?
People staying in emergency accommodation have very few rights and if you break the rules, the landlord will probably be able to evict you without needing to get a court order. Wherever you're staying, try to stick to the rules in order to avoid getting thrown out.
Paying for emergency accommodation
If you don't have any money, some hostels may accept you as long as you are eligible to claim housing benefit. During winter, you may be able to stay in a temporary winter shelter free of charge.
If you have some money, you could consider booking into a hostel or a bed and breakfast, and then claiming housing benefit if necessary. Before you book into a B&B, check that they will accept Housing Benefit as a means of payment as many will not.
The council's social work department may be able to pay for temporary accommodation for children and some young people over the age of 18 to prevent homelessness.