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This guide covers England and Wales
For a version of this guide that covers Scotland, please click here.

Get all the help you can

Being at risk of losing your home can be overwhelming, but it is important to know what help is available to you. If you qualify for help under the homelessness rules, the council may be able to help you to stay in your current home or help you to find another one if you have to leave.

Don’t assume that you can’t get any help. This guide can help you understand what the council can do for you. It might make a positive difference to what happens next. 

Use this guide to:

  • help you understand when you can get help;
  • understand the process the council must follow; and
  • deal with the problems you may face in trying to get rehoused.

The information in this guide does not apply if you are currently homeless. If this is the case, see our Advice if you are homeless guide for information.

Extra rules also apply if you are worried about losing your home because of domestic violence. If you need to find somewhere else to live because you are experiencing or being threatened with domestic violence in your home, contact your local council or another council straightaway. In this situation, the council should treat you as homeless. See our Advice if you are homeless guide.

In partnership with Shelter

We would like to thank Shelter for their help with the writing of this guide.

Help from the council

In England, the rules that councils must follow are set out in Part VII of the Housing Act 1996. On 3 April 2018, some of the legislation in the Housing Act 1996 was replaced by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

In Wales, the rules that councils must follow are set out in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. Although England and Wales have different legislation, the rules councils must follow are very similar.

Councils use this legislation to work out what help to give you if you are either threatened with homelessness or are homeless.

The law uses special terms, such as ‘eligible for help’ and ‘threatened with homelessness’. These are explained in the following sections.

If you live in Wales

The rules for renting a home in Wales changed on 1 December 2022. Most tenants in Wales are now known as ‘contract-holders’ and most tenancies in Wales are now known as ‘occupation contracts’. In this guide, we use the term ‘tenant’ to also include ‘contract-holders’ and the term ‘tenancy’ to also include ‘occupation contracts’ unless we explain otherwise.

Who is eligible for help?

You will be treated as eligible for help unless you are ‘a person from abroad’. Certain categories of people who are classed as a ‘person from abroad’ can be eligible, for example if you have:

  • refugee status;
  • settled immigration status; or
  • exceptional leave to enter and remain.

European Union (EU) nationals

The rules about EU nationals and who is eligible for help are complicated. This section shows the main rules that apply. This advice also applies if you are a citizen of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.

  • You can get help if you are an Irish citizen.
  • You can get help if you have settled status in the UK.
  • You may be able to get help if you have pre-settled status in the UK, but you will have to meet extra conditions.
  • You may be able to get help if you applied to the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021 and are still waiting for your application to be processed.

If you are unsure whether you are eligible for help, contact Shelter for more information. See Useful contacts at the end of this guide.

Seek specialist advice

The rules on eligibility are very complex. If you have recently come into this country or are a national of another country, you need to seek specialist advice.

You can get further advice from www.shelter.org.uk, or a local Shelter advice service. If you have nowhere to sleep tonight, are at risk of harm or losing your home within the next two months, call Shelter Helpline on 0808 800 4444 for advice and information on your options.

Who is threatened with homelessness?

In England and Wales you are threatened with homelessness if:

  • you are likely to be homeless within 56 days; or
  • you have received a valid Section 21 (s21) notice from your landlord that will run out within 56 days.

When you are threatened with homelessness the council has a duty to try to help you. The council should provide you with information and may have to carry out an assessment to help you further.

What is a S21?

In England, a s21 notice can be used by a landlord to start the legal process to end an assured shorthold tenancy. You do not need to have missed any rent payments or broken any conditions of your tenancy agreement for your landlord to use this process. Your landlord must follow the correct procedure and cannot force you to leave your home without a court order.

Where can I get information?

If you are threatened with homelessness, you should go to the housing department at the local council. The council must give advice to anyone who is threatened with homelessness. This advice is free.

The advice should tell you:

  • what your rights are when you are threatened with homelessness;
  • what help is available from the council; and
  • how to get help.

The advice must be accessible to everyone. It should be designed to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

Will the council carry out an assessment?

The council has a duty to carry out an assessment with you if they think you are:

  • threatened with homelessness; and 
  • eligible for help (see the earlier section, Who is eligible for help?).

The assessment must look at:

  • why you are threatened with homelessness;
  • what your housing needs are; and
  • what help you need to find and keep suitable accommodation.

The assessment must be in writing. The council should give you a copy of the assessment.

You and the council should then try to agree a ‘personalised housing plan’. The personalised housing plan will be based on the assessment that the council carried out. It should show what steps you need to take to try to keep your current home or to find new accommodation. It should also say what steps the council will take to help you do this.

Councils in England should give you a copy of your personalised housing plan and there will be a copy for you at the council’s housing office.

If you and the council don’t agree with the personalised housing plan, councils in England must write down why you disagree. The plan must include what steps they believe it would be reasonable for you to take and what steps it would be reasonable for them to take.

The assessment and personalised housing plan

The council should keep the assessment and personalised housing plan under review while you are threatened with homelessness. Tell the council if your circumstances change.

What must the council do if I am threatened with homelessness?

If the council thinks you are eligible for help under these rules, they have a duty to try to stop you being made homeless. This is sometimes called the ‘preventative duty’. The council’s duty starts  56 days  before the date you are likely to be made homeless. The council is expected to take reasonable steps to prevent you from being made homeless or to help you keep your current home. The steps the council must take will be explained in your personalised housing plan. The steps might include:

  • giving you advice on how to defend a repossession claim and try and save your home;
  • mediation to try to keep your family together; or
  • help with a deposit to allow you to find alternative accommodation when your tenancy ends.

This is not a full list, but gives some idea of the type of help the council might be able to give you.

The council’s duty to prevent you from being made homeless can end sooner than 56 days in some cases. The duty could end early if:

  • you find suitable accommodation that you can live in for a minimum of 6 months;
  • you deliberately refuse to co-operate with the assessment and the council think this is unreasonable;
  • you refuse an offer of accommodation;
  • you chose to withdraw from the process; or
  • you become homeless. (In this situation you will be able to get further help. See our Advice if you are homeless guide.)

If the council want to end their involvement they must give you notice. This notice must explain why they are ending the help. It must also explain how you can ask for a review.

Refusing an offer

Do not refuse an offer without getting advice first. It is probably safest to accept an offer and ask for a review if you think the accommodation is not suitable. That way, if your review is not successful, you can still keep the accommodation first offered.

Turning down any offer of accommodation, even if it is temporary, can mean the council have’discharged’ their duty. If this is the case, they do not have to help you any further.

Section 21 (s21) notices

There are special rules if your landlord has given you a valid section 21 (s21) notice. The council must start to help if you are 56 days from the expiry date of the s21 notice. The council must carry on helping you, even if this takes longer than 56 days for you to be evicted. They must continue to help you until they are satisfied you are homeless, or there is a separate reason to end the preventative duty, for example, if you find suitable accommodation that you can live in for a minimum of 6 months.

Duty of public authorities

You can be referred to the council for help with housing by other public bodies. Public bodies could be hospitals, prisons, schools or GPs. They can only do this if they believe you are at risk of becoming homeless and they have your permission to do so. You can choose which council you are referred to.

Help with rent

If you are on a low income, you might be able to claim the housing element of Universal Credit to help with your rent. The amount of help you can get depends on where you live, how many bedrooms you are entitled to and the type of landlord you rent from. If you rent from a private landlord, you can work out the maximum rent you are allowed at the Directgov website.

In some circumstances, you might need to apply for Housing Benefit instead. This is usually because you have reached State Pension age or live in certain supported, sheltered or temporary housing. Housing Benefit may not cover your rent payments in full. You should work out a budget before signing any new agreement to make sure you can afford to ‘top-up’ your rent payments.

If you are under 35, rent from a private landlord and live alone, you may have to top up more rent than if you were in different circumstances. For more information go to www.shelter.org.uk and type ‘Local housing allowance (LHA) if you’re under 35′ into the search box.

If you are already claiming the housing element of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit in your current accommodation and the amount you get doesn’t cover all your rent, you can apply to your council for a Discretionary Housing Payment. This is an amount of money the council can give you to help with housing costs that doesn’t have to be paid back. It is up to the council whether to give you a discretionary housing payment, and if so, how much. Shelter has an online tool that uses your postcode to find the contact details for your council’s discretionary housing payments team. Go to www.shelter.org.uk and type ‘Discretionary housing payments’ into the search box.

If you get certain benefits, you may be able to apply for a budgeting loan or advance. For more information about benefits go to www.gov.uk and type the name of the benefit you are looking for into the search box.

Help with deposits

In some areas rental deposits, or ‘bond’ schemes, have been set up to help people on a low income or benefits to find private rented accommodation. These schemes help with rental deposits. Under the scheme you do not have to pay a deposit up front, and the tenancy agreement is with a landlord from an approved list. Your council may also help with rent in advance under their homelessness prevention powers. Schemes vary, so contact your local advice agency, local council or Shelter for more information. See Useful contacts at the end of this guide.

Tenancy deposit protection

From 6 April 2007, any deposit you have to pay for a new assured shorthold tenancy must be protected under a government tenancy deposit protection scheme. Your landlord must tell you which scheme they have used to safeguard your deposit money until the end of the tenancy. The schemes can sort out disputes between you and your landlord. For more information, go to www.gov.uk and type ‘tenancy deposit protection’ into the search box.

If your landlord does not protect your deposit in time, you may be entitled to compensation. It may also prevent your landlord from evicting you in certain circumstances. Contact us for advice.

Other help

You may also be able to get help in the following ways.

  • Asking social services for help if you have children. Contact your council for details of your local social services department.
  • Applying to the council’s local welfare assistance scheme. Check with your local council if they still run one of these types of schemes.

Other housing options

The council waiting list

You can apply to go on the council waiting list at the same time that you ask for help because you are at risk of becoming homeless.

Councils must have a scheme for deciding who can join the council waiting list. Individual councils have the power to decide who can join their list and why.

Reasons that someone may not be able to join a waiting list include the following.

  • Immigration status (this could prevent you from joining any waiting list).
  • Unacceptable behaviour, for example, serious anti-social behaviour or having previous rent arrears.

All schemes must give priority when allocating council housing to certain groups of people. This is called ‘reasonable preference’. Individual councils can choose who they give reasonable preference to. You may be given reasonable preference if:

  • you live in overcrowded or unsanitary accommodation;
  • you live in temporary or insecure accommodation;
  • you live with dependent children, or you are a pregnant woman;
  • you live in a household with someone who needs settled accommodation because they are ill or disabled; or
  • you find it difficult to get settled secure accommodation.

Someone who is single and already has somewhere to live may wait a long time to be offered accommodation or may be excluded from some scheme lists altogether.

What if I disagree with the council’s decision?

You can ask the council for a review if they will not let you on their waiting list.

The deadline for requesting this type of review is normally 21 days. Contact us for advice.

Housing associations

Housing associations may be able to offer good accommodation at an affordable rent. Some will only let you apply if you already have your name on the council waiting list. In some areas housing associations and the council operate a joint waiting list. If this is the case, you will not need to apply individually to each housing association. Ask the housing association what rules apply in your area.

Housing associations may have their own criteria for people who they will house first. Some associations are set up to help certain groups of people, such as the elderly or low-income families. The council should be able to give you a list of housing associations in your area. GOV.UK will provide details of your local council’s website.

Private landlords

Private landlords often advertise on the internet, in the newspaper or in shop windows. Some choose to let the property through an estate agent or property agent. Agents will often run credit reference checks. If you have some adverse information such as a county court judgment (CCJ) on your credit reference file, a private landlord may not agree to let you rent out their property.

If you decide to rent privately, look around first to find out what is on offer in your area and get an idea of what sort of rents are being charged.

You may need to find out from a local advice agency what maximum rents will be covered by the housing element of Universal Credit or by Housing Benefit in your area. They may also keep lists of local landlords. Landlords who have a smaller amount of properties may be more likely to rent you a property if you receive the housing element of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. They are also less likely to run credit checks on potential tenants. Have a look at the house before you agree to move in or hand over any money. Ask for a receipt for any money you pay as rent or as a deposit.

There are different types of private tenancy agreements. Your rights are affected by the type of tenancy you take and what sort of accommodation you have. Before signing an agreement with a landlord get advice from a local advice agency.

In England, most private tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies. These will usually run for a minimum of six months. You can be evicted with a court order using a bailiff’s warrant just because the tenancy has ended once the term of the tenancy has run out. Bailiffs are commonly known as enforcement agents.

In Wales, you will usually have a standard occupation contract if your landlord is a private landlord. Check your contract (also called a ‘written statement’) to see what type of agreement you have and how it can be ended.

Useful contacts

Shelter You can get further advice from www.shelter.org.uk, or a local Shelter advice service.If you have nowhere to sleep tonight, are at risk of harm or losing your home within the next two months, call ShelterHelpline on 0808 800 4444 for advice and information on your options.

Shelter Cymru For expert housing advice if you live in Wales. Phone: 0800 049 5495 www.sheltercymru.org.uk

Law Centres There may be a law centre locally that deals with housing issues. Phone: 020 3637 1330www.lawcentres.org.uk

Local Citizens Advice The address of your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be in the phone book. You can also check the Citizens Advice website: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Civil Legal Advice To find a local housing solicitor. Phone: 0345 345 4345 www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice

Advice if you are homeless guide

Rent arrears – England guide

Rent arrears for standard occupation contracts – Wales guide

Rent arrears for secure occupation contracts – Wales guide

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