An Introduction to Homelessness

Homelessness legislation

The 1996 Housing Act, the Homelessness Act 2002 and the 2002 Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order  place statutory duties on local housing authorities to provide assistance to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Authorities must consider all applications from people seeking accommodation or assistance in obtaining accommodation. The authority has a legal duty to help certain people when they are satisfied that the applicant is eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and falls within a priority need group (see below). When this is the case, the authority must make sure that suitable accommodation is available for the person applying and his or her household until a settled home becomes available for them.

Where households are found to be intentionally homeless or not in priority need, the authority must make an assessment of their housing needs and provide advice and assistance to help them find accommodation for themselves.

Where the applicant is found to be intentionally homeless but falls in a priority need category the authority must also ensure that accommodation is available for long enough to give the applicant a reasonable opportunity to find a home.

Priority needs

What are priority need groups as defined by the 1996 Housing Act in England and Wales?

  • Households with dependent children
  • Households with a pregnant woman
  • People who are vulnerable in some way e.g. because of old age, mental illness or physical disability or other special reason
  • People who are homeless of threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

In England this list was expanded further by the 2002 Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order to include:

  • Applicants aged 16 or 17
  • Applicants aged 18 to 20 who were previously in care
  • Applicants vulnerable as a result of time spent in care, in custody or in HM forces
  • Applicants vulnerable as a result of having to flee their home because of violence or the threat of violence (this includes domestic violence)

Useful Links

Homeless Link are a national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England

Shelter helps people struggling with bad housing or homelessness through advice, support and legal services

Centrepoint provides a safe place to live for young people in London and North East England

Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people