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If you’re at risk of losing your home

Being homeless is something no parent ever wants their family to go through. If you’ve already left your home or think you might have to soon, there are places that can help you. This page explains how to reach out to your council for advice, emergency housing, help to stay in your home or a place to move. As a single parent, you’ll be made a priority for help.

Reaching out to your local council

How the council decides if they can help

Types of housing the council might offer

If the council says they can’t help

Help is out there

If you’re worried about becoming homeless, you can call Shelter’s emergency helpline for free on 0808 800 4444 or speak to a trained adviser at Citizens Advice.

And if you have to leave your home because of violence, threats or any other abuse you can get help from Refuge on 0808 2000 247 any time of day or night.

Reaching out to your local council

If you’re already homeless or are going to be in the next 8 weeks, your council has to help you. 

Contact your local council to make a homeless application. If you need help outside of normal working hours, check their website for an emergency phone number.

If you have nowhere to sleep tonight, or are at risk of harm or abuse in your home, call Shelter’s emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444 between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays. 

If you think you might be able to stay in your current home, your local council can give you practical and legal advice on how to do this. If you have nowhere to go, they should offer you emergency accommodation as a single parent (also called interim accommodation).

It’s always best to approach your council before things get desperate. If you’re thinking about making a homeless application, it’s good to get advice first. Here are some useful places for information and support:

How the council decides if they can help

1. Your citizenship

You’re usually eligible for help if you’re a British or Irish citizen living in the UK. 

Otherwise, you can only get housing help if you meet extra rules. These will depend on things like your right to stay in the country or your refugee status. 

The rules can be complicated, but Citizens Advice has some useful information on who can apply for homeless help.

2. Whether you’re homeless now, or will be in the next 8 weeks

Being homeless doesn’t always mean sleeping rough. It can mean: 

  • Your landlord has given you an eviction notice
  • You can’t afford your rent or mortgage
  • You’ve been locked out of your home
  • You’ve been asked to leave a friend’s or relatives’ home where you were staying
  • You’ve experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse
  • It would be unreasonable for you to stay in your home – for example, if it’s in a terrible condition or there’s not enough space for your family

3. Whether you’re a priority

You’ll be prioritised as a single parent responsible for children, or if you’re pregnant.

4. Whether you’re ‘intentionally homeless’

The council will want to know why you became or might become homeless.

You’ll need to show you didn’t deliberately do something that made you lose your home. For example, not paying your rent when you could afford to or antisocial behaviour. This is called being intentionally homeless.

Genuine reasons for being homeless are things like: 

  • Leaving because you experienced or were threatened with violence
  • Financial problems linked to your relationship ending or losing your job

5. Your connection to the local area

You can apply to any council for help. If you don’t have a connection to that area, you might be passed to a different council for help.

Having a local connection means things like:

  • You’ve lived there for at least 6 out of the last 12 months or 3 out of the last 5 years
  • You work in the area  
  • You have family links there
  • You need to live there for specialist medical treatment
  • You lived there before for a long time

If none of these apply to you, you’ll probably be referred for support to a council where you do have a local connection. This will not happen if going back to this area would put you at risk of violence or domestic abuse. The council you approach first has to give you emergency accommodation (if you qualify) until the other council accepts your case.

Types of housing the council might offer

Emergency housing

If your children are with you or you’re pregnant, the council has to put you into emergency accommodation if they consider you homeless. This could be a flat, hotel, bed & breakfast, hostel or refuge.

If you have your children with you or are pregnant, you shouldn’t have to stay in a hotel or bed & breakfast where you share a bathroom and kitchen with other people. If you do have to stay in one at first, you should be moved after 6 weeks. You can ask the council to move you if you’ve been there for longer.

Emergency housing is usually furnished. If you can’t arrange for your furniture to be stored, the council has to arrange this for you. They do usually charge for this.

Pets aren’t usually allowed in emergency housing, and you may be worried what will happen to yours. Ask the council if they do have any pet-friendly emergency housing, and tell them how important your pet is to you. Some charities run pet fostering schemes if you’re homeless because of domestic abuse. Refuge has details of places that can foster your pet if you find yourself in this situation. 

Longer term housing

The council will then decide whether they need to provide you with longer term (settled) housing. If you qualify, they’ll have to give you somewhere to live until they can arrange this. The longer term housing you’re offered should be suitable for your family’s needs – affordable, big enough, near schools and so on.

It’s also good to check the type of tenancy you’ve been offered – whether it’s for a fixed period of time, or a rolling weekly or monthly tenancy. And before you accept or reject an offer, it’s good to understand how the allocation process works. 

For example, it’s usually better to accept and then ask the council to review the suitability of the home. That way you’ll have a place to live while they’re doing this and won’t lose your place in the queue. Citizens Advice has more on challenging a council’s housing decision.

In some cases, the council might put you in emergency accommodation and then decide you’re not entitled to longer term housing. If this happens, you should be allowed to stay in the temporary accommodation for up to 28 days while you find somewhere to live. And the council should give you advice on finding somewhere to live, including how to rent privately.

See our page on renting for more.

If the council says they can’t help

If a council refuses your application, they have to explain why in writing. You can ask for their decision to be reviewed. You have to do this within 3 weeks of their decision. Shelter has some useful guidance on asking for a review, including a letter template you can use to do this.

It’s always best to get advice if you want to challenge a council decision. You might be able to get free legal help if you have a low income.

Every council publishes its housing application and allocation policy. You can check this to make sure you’ve been treated fairly.

Date last updated: 29 January 2024

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