The recent increase in financial difficulties means homelessness is something affecting more and more of us. Everyone has the right to a roof over their heads but the society we live in makes it difficult for many to have this basic need satisfied.
Homelessness can be caused by a wide number of issues often out of control of those affected. We believe the best way to prevent homelessness is to stop if from happening in the first place. This can only be done in a fair society that puts the needs of people before the needs of the rich and powerful. Since we don’t live in that kind of society, people who find themselves homeless need to know where they can get help.
Please note this guide is not intended to be a complete or authoritative statement of the law and you should always seek professional guidance if you are in any doubt about your rights or responsibilities.
Are you homeless?
The council has an obligation to help homeless people find accommodation.
You are classed as homeless if you are without any accommodation but you can also be classed as homeless even if you are not literally without a roof over your head; for example, if you are unable to remain where you are living or you live somewhere which is totally unsuitable.
Are you in priority need?
You are considered to be in priority need if you:
- have dependant children living with you, are pregnant or live with someone who is pregnant;
- are homeless as a result of a flood, fire or other disaster;
- are classified as “vulnerable” or are living with someone who is vulnerable;
- they might have to help you if the person that you want to live with is homeless and in priority need;
- if you are aged 18-21 and were in care till you were 16, or if you are 16-17 and not been in care till 16.
If the council decide you are not in priority need, they still have the power to help you find accommodation.
Are you intentionally homeless?
The council will decide that you are ‘intentionally homeless’ if:
- you had somewhere else that was reasonable for you to live, but you chose to leave or to give up the property,
- you leave somewhere, where you can continue to live, and are only leaving to get some help from the council.
- you were helped to find suitable and available accommodation by the council as a result of a previous homeless application but you failed to take up the offer.
- you have contrived your eviction by arranging with your landlord that they tell you to leave.
You should not be found intentionally homeless if:
- you left home because you felt threatened with violence;
- your home was repossessed due to arrears which arose because you could afford to pay your rent or mortgage.
- the conditions in your home were so bad that you could not remain and it would have been unreasonable to expect you to stay;
- you lost your home through someone else’s actions which you did not know about or had no control over.
If you are found to be intentionally homeless and you are a family with dependant children, the council can refer you to Social Services for help, which you have to agree to first.
Do you have a local connection with the area?
The council look at whether you have a connection to the area. The connection can be that you have lived in the area for at least 6 of the last 12 months, you have a permanent job in the area or you have close family members who have lived in the area for at least five years. If you have no local connection with the area where you have applied then you can be referred to an area where you do have a local connection.
Are you eligible for assistance?
You will be treated as eligible for assistance unless you are a ‘person from abroad’. In order for the council to help you must have refugee status, settled immigration status or exceptional leave to enter and remain. If you have accommodation, even if it is temporary, and you are an asylum seeker, you may not be eligible for assistance.
What help does the Council have to give you?
If the council decide that you are homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and did not become homeless intentionally, they can do the following:
- refer you to another local authority if you do not have a local connection with the council you applied to;
- provide you with temporary accommodation until permanent accommodation becomes available.
- make you a final offer of accommodation from the council itself;
- offer you an Assured Tenancy from a registered social landlord.
- offer you an Assured Shorthold Tenancy with a private landlord. You do not have to accept this offer but if you do accept, the council does not have to help you further.
Making the application
Try to go to an advice agency before you make your application because they will be able to make sure you know what your rights are. Your application will be dealt with by the housing department at your council. If you want to apply as a homeless person make this clear when you go to the housing department and ask to speak to the person who deals with homelessness. Sunderland council have a Housing Options team and their emergency phone number is 0800 7312963 (24 hours).
Can you refuse the accommodation offered?
Many councils will only make one offer of accommodation. This has to be in your circumstances. Do not refuse an offer without getting advice first. You are allowed to accept the offer without losing your right to a review of the offer on the grounds of its “suitability”. The review is supposed to look at how suitable the offer is based on the “needs of the applicant”.
If you are refused help what can you do?
If you are not happy with the way that the council deals with your enquiry then seek help from a local advice agency.