Thursday 02 February 2017
As part of the Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo weekly advice column this week we focus on homelessness.
I have left my partner and I am worried that I won’t be able to afford to rent new accommodation. What help is available?
So far this year we have seen a 17% increase in enquiries about homelessness. Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. The local authority will look at a number of things to decide if you qualify for help. These are whether:
- you are eligible for assistance
- you are homeless or threatened with homelessness
- you have a priority need for housing
- you are not intentionally homeless
- you have a local connection.
Generally, the more of these stages you get through, the more the local authority will have to do to help you. Local social services authorities also have responsibility for some homeless people. They have a duty to provide accommodation for children and young people over 16 who are leaving care, or who are in need for other reasons.
Certain people who arrive in this country, or who are returning from a period living abroad, do not qualify for housing under homelessness laws. For example, many asylum-seekers (but not all) are excluded, as is someone who has spent significant time living away from the UK even if they are a UK citizen. The rules on eligibility are complex and if you are arriving in or returning to the UK, you should seek specialist advice.
You will be considered legally homeless if you have no accommodation which is available and reasonable for you and your household to live in. This includes accommodation in another country. You will also be homeless if you have accommodation but cannot get into it. For example, if you have somewhere to stay with friends or relatives but have been asked to leave, or you are at risk of violence in your home. You will be considered to be threatened with homelessness, if you are likely to be homeless within 56 days.
You will be counted as having a ‘priority need’ for housing if you are homeless and:
- you are pregnant
- you have dependent children under 16, or under 19 if they are in full-time education
- you are homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or a fire
- you are aged 16 or 17.
You may also be in priority need if you fall into one of the following groups. In some cases, you may have to show that your situation has made you vulnerable:-
- you are elderly, or have a physical or mental illness or disability
- you are over 18 but at risk of exploitation or have been in care
- you are at risk of domestic violence, racial violence or other threats of violence
- you are homeless after leaving hospital, prison or the armed forces.
If you are in the armed forces, or a veteran, contact us to find out about your rights.
You may be considered ‘intentionally homeless’ if you have deliberately done something which has made you lose your home. However, the definition of intentionally homeless is complicated and a decision made by your local authority can be s challenged. For example, if you have become homeless because of rent or mortgage arrears you should not automatically be considered to be intentionally homeless. The local authority must look at each case individually. If you lost your home because of genuine financial problems you will not be homeless through your own fault.
The local authority may refuse to accept responsibility if it thinks that you have no connection with the area where you are looking for help with housing. You would usually be expected to live, work or have family links to have a local connection. In this situation, you may be referred to an area where you do have a connection.
If the local authority needs time to carry out enquiries (and if it seems that you are homeless and in priority need), it must make sure you have somewhere to live while it investigates your situation.
If you qualify as homeless, the local authority will have to help you. It does not have to provide accommodation from its own properties. It can house you in various ways, for example, by referring you to a housing association, or arranging accommodation with a private landlord.
If the local authority decides that you are not homeless, it does not have any duties to arrange long-term accommodation for you. However, it will have some duties to help you, and must provide advice and assistance in finding accommodation, or provide a temporary place to stay while you find a permanent home.
For more information and advice about homelessness, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk or telephone Citizens Advice Exeter on 03444 111 444.
Look out for our column next week when we focus on pay and entitlements at work.
The information contained in these articles does not constitute advice. Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo accept no liability for the information published. Citizens Advice Exeter is unable to respond to individual requests for advice through these columns. Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date information, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk