Why is this important?
Local authorities have a legal duty to give help and advice to most people who are homeless, but they do not have to provide accommodation for everyone. If you have just arrived in the UK or you have just returned after living abroad, you may not be eligible for homelessness assistance. More information on eligibility for people who have come from abroad and their families is available from the Housing Rights website at www.housing-rights.info.
The local authority will check that you are actually homeless or about to become homeless within 28 days. If you have a home somewhere else, where you could reasonably live, you will not be treated as homeless.
The local authority will also have to decide whether you have a priority need for housing because of some special circumstances. In some cases, you can gain priority need because of someone you live with, or might reasonably be expected to live with.
You will have a priority need for housing if you are pregnant or have children, if you are a young person of 16 or 17, or a young person aged 18, 19 or 20 who has recently been looked after by social services. You will also have a priority need if your home has been affected by an emergency such as fire or flood. You may also have a priority need if you are vulnerable because of having been in the armed forces, in prison or because you've had to leave your last home because of domestic or other violence. You may also have a priority need if you are vulnerable because of old age, mental illness or disability, a physical disability, or because of another special reason.
You must not have lost your home because of something that you deliberately did or failed to do. For example, if you were evicted from your home because of anti-social behaviour you could be classed as intentionally homeless. The local authority will also check that you have a connection with the local area. This may be because you normally live, work or have family there. If they decide that you have a local connection with another area, they may refer you to that local authority instead.
If you are found to be eligible for help, homeless, have a priority need and are not intentionally homeless, the local authority may give you temporary accommodation until they can offer you other accommodation which will bring their duty to rehouse you to an end. They don't have to provide accommodation from their own properties. They can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.
For more information on being re-housed by the local authority, see Finding accommodation.
You can find useful fact sheets about what a local authority will look at if you apply for housing as homeless on the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) website at www.nhas.org.uk.