The legal definition of homeless

You do not have to be living on the street to be homeless. You might be sleeping on a friend's sofa, staying in a hostel, or living in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation.

To be eligible for homelessness help from the council, you must be either:

  • legally homeless or

  • threatened with homelessness

Get homeless help from the council

If you have nowhere safe to stay, make a homeless application to the council. You should be given accommodation on the day you need it.

They must help if you are homeless or likely to become homeless in the next two months.

Find a council's homeless department

Legally homeless

You may be legally homeless if:

You have no home where you and your household can live together

For example:

  • your accommodation is too small

  • you want an elderly parent to live with you but your home is not suitable for their needs

Your household can include your partner or spouse, immediate family, children you treat as your own, live-in carers or companions, and members of your extended family.

You have no right to stay where you are

For example:

  • you are sleeping on a friend's sofa

  • you are temporarily staying with friends or relatives

  • you live with your parents but they want you to leave

  • you are staying somewhere without permission from the owner

  • you have been evicted by your landlord

  • your home has been repossessed by your mortgage lender

It is not reasonable to stay in your home

For example:

  • you or anyone else in your family are experiencing violence or threats

  • you are living somewhere that isn't designed to be permanent accommodation, for example, in a refuge or bed and breakfast

  • your home is making you ill or depressed

  • your home is below the legal standard of repairs

  • you have split up with your partner and cannot reasonably continue to live with them

  • you or someone in your household has specific needs and your home is not properly adapted

  • you can no longer afford your home without going into significant debt

Other reasons you could be homeless

  • there's nowhere to put your mobile home or houseboat

  • your home is legally overcrowded and the situation is damaging your mental or physical well-being

  • you cannot get into your accommodation, for example, because someone has changed the locks

If the council believes you are homeless

If you are legally homeless, you can stay in temporary accommodation while the council check if you meet their criteria for an offer of a permanent home.

The other two criteria that the council can look into are:

If the council decides you are not homeless

If the council decides that you are not homeless, they must let you know in writing. The decision letter should explain:

  • that the council has decided you are not homeless

  • why it came to this decision

  • that you have 21 days to ask for a review of this decision

When to contact Shelter Scotland

Contact an adviser if:

  • you are turned away from making a homeless application

  • you are told that you cannot get temporary accommodation

  • you disagree with the decision the council has reached


Threatened with homelessness

You can 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.

If the council believes you are threatened with homelessness

The council should offer advice and assistance to find a permanent solution to your situation. They should not just help you postpone homelessness. They could:

  • help you prevent an illegal eviction

  • help you negotiate with your landlord if you have rent arrears

  • help you negotiate with your mortgage lender to prevent repossession

  • provide you with information about the mortgage to rent scheme

  • help you find a new place to live before you become homeless

  • advise you on repairs or adaptations that could make your home more suitable for you

  • help you sort out any family problems that may result in your becoming homeless through mediation

If the council cannot help you keep your home

If it is reasonable, you should stay in your current home until you have to leave. You should then be offered temporary accommodation.

The council should not wait until you are evicted before checking if you meet their other requirements for an offer of a permanent home.

The other two criteria that the council can look into are:

If the council decides you are not threatened with homelessness

If the council decides that you aren't threatened with homelessness, they must let you know in writing. The decision letter should explain:

  • that the council has decided that you are not threatened with homelessness

  • why it came to this decision

  • that you have 21 days to ask for a review of this decision

When to contact Shelter Scotland

Contact an adviser if:

  • the council do not try to find a permanent solution to your housing problem

  • you are turned away from making a homeless application

  • you disagree with the decision the council has reached

Last updated: 21 June 2021

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England