Emergency accommodation options

This section outlines what other emergency housing options are available, and discusses related matters such as security of tenure and payment.

This content applies to Scotland

Housing options

The main emergency housing options are:

  • staying with friends

  • hostels, nightshelters and winter (cold weather) shelters

  • women's refuges

  • bed and breakfast hotels

  • squatting.

The suitability of each emergency housing option will vary according to the client's status, needs and preferences - and whether s/he has any money to pay for housing. In addition, the options available will depend on what is available locally. Advisers should maintain up-to-date details of all local options.

Security of tenure

Clients should be advised that there is little, or no, security of tenure in the emergency accommodation sector. For more details, please see the section on security of tenure.


The adviser should also give information about paying for each of the options:

  • If the client has no money, s/he might be accepted by many hostels, as long as s/he is eligible to claim Housing Benefit to cover her/his housing costs. During the winter months, temporary winter shelters may be available where s/he can stay free of charge.

  • If the client has some money, s/he could book into a hostel or a bed and breakfast (B&B) and, if eligible, should then immediately apply for Housing Benefit. However, benefit claimants may find it difficult to find a bed and breakfast hotel which accepts payment in this way.

  • Where children are involved, under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 the local authority has an emergency power to assist persons of 18 and over in need, in certain circumstances. This power, combined with the provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Code of Guidance, may make possible a cash payment to avert homelessness. For more information, please see the section on discharge of duties by a local authority.

  • For asylum seekers and people from abroad, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 introduced a new support system on 3 April 2000. People who applied for asylum before that date receive transitional help under homelessness legislation, or a right to local authority support pending the final decision on their asylum application. For further information, please see the section on asylum seekers.

For further information on payment in these situations, please see the section on paying for accommodation.

Staying with friends

If there are friends or relatives with whom the client can stay, s/he may find this the least stressful emergency option where they are more likely to feel safe. However, this should only be seen as a 'stopgap' measure and for this reason clients may have reservations about pursuing this option.


There are a variety of different types and sizes of hostels run by public and private sector landlords and voluntary organisations. Generally speaking, they are only a short-term solution.

Nightshelters and winter (cold weather) shelters

Nightshelters provide basic accommodation and are usually restricted in their opening hours and the number of nights a person can stay. They are designed to provide easy-access accommodation for people who sleep on the streets but who want a few nights' respite.

During the winter months some charities, voluntary organisations and local authorities set up winter shelters. These temporary shelters are often in makeshift buildings such as old offices and schools. They normally provide only a bed and food and are open in the evenings and overnight. They are generally free of charge. Most shelters are open for a few weeks during the coldest months or over the Christmas period. Advisers will usually need to collect information about these locally, for example by contacting local charities.

Direct access hostels

These are designed to be easily accessible accommodation and are sometimes open 24 hours a day. However there may be entry criteria or restrictions, for example, some hostels will only accept referrals for bed spaces from day centres and outreach teams and some have entry criteria based on age and gender

Although some hostels will accept direct approaches from homeless people, they fill up very quickly. To access their facilities, contact will need to be made early in the day to see if there are vacancies.

Direct access hostels are not free and can be quite expensive; however the advantage is that no deposit or rent in advance is required.

For those in receipt of benefit or on a low income, Housing Benefit may be claimed to cover some of the cost of staying in the hostel but, depending on the level of 'services' provided (for example, food and laundry), Housing Benefit will not cover the full cost.

Longer term hostels

These are hostels that 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. They are run by various organisations, including charities, housing associations and local authorities.


Some hostels may provide move-on or resettlement advice or may have a key worker or team to do this. They may have nomination rights to other housing providers such as long-stay hostels, housing associations or local authorities.

Women's refuges

Women who have to leave home because of violence or threats may want to stay at a refuge. These are usually ordinary houses shared by women and children. Women do not have to go to a refuge in their own area and the address is kept secret to protect them from violent partners. The refuge workers will help with claiming benefits and finding other housing. However, advisers should note that women with older male children might find it more difficult to get into a refuge.

Women who need a place in a refuge should contact Scottish Women's Aid.

Women and men who are facing violence are also likely to be in priority need, and so may be able to get help from the local authority.


Squatting is not a legal option in Scotland. Anyone trying to gain entry to, or live in, a property to which s/he is not entitled will face both criminal and civil sanctions.

Last updated: 29 December 2014