What is the legal definition of homelessness?

You can ask the council for help if you’re homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

You don’t always have to be sleeping on the streets or not have a roof over your head to be considered legally homeless.


In deciding whether you are legally homeless, the council has to look at any accommodation you have access to. You should be considered homeless if;

  • you have no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world
  • you have no home available where you can live together with your immediate family, or with any person who might reasonably be expected to live with you (for example, a full time carer)
  • you can only stay where you are on a very temporary basis
  • you don’t have permission to live where you are
  • you have been locked out of home and you aren’t allowed back
  • you can’t live at home because of violence or abuse or threats of violence or abuse which are likely to be carried out against you or someone else in your household
  • it isn’t reasonable for you to stay in your home for any reason (for example, if your home is in very poor condition)
  • you can’t afford to stay where you are, or
  • you live in a mobile home, caravan or houseboat and you have nowhere to put it.

So, even if you have somewhere to stay the council may still consider you to be homeless. Examples of situations where the council should consider you to be homeless are given below, but there may be other reasons.

I have no home where my immediate family can live together

The council should consider you to be homeless if you can’t live in your accommodation with everyone who normally lives with you. The council should also consider you to be homeless if there is someone who could be expected to live with you but who is not able to at present. This might be because, for example, the accommodation is too small or because your landlord doesn’t allow children.

I am sofa surfing or my accommodation is very temporary

The council should accept you’re legally homeless if you are sofa surfing or staying somewhere very temporary such as a:

I haven’t got a legal right to live in my accommodation

If you don’t have permission to live in the accommodation you are living in (for example because you are squatting) the council should consider you to be homeless.

I can’t get into my accommodation

The council should consider you to be homeless if you have been illegally evicted and you are unable to get into your accommodation. For example, your landlord or someone you live with has changed the locks.

There is a risk of abuse in my home

It is not reasonable to be expected to stay somewhere if it is likely that you or someone else in your household is at risk of abuse. This includes:

  • physical violence
  • emotional or financial abuse
  • racial abuse
  • intimidating behaviour
  • abuse from outside the home.

If you are in this situation, the council should consider you to be homeless. You should not be forced to provide evidence of any previous incident(s) although you should give as much information as possible about your situation so the council can carry out a full assessment. If the council tell you that you must get an injunction against the abuser or press charges before they will help, then get help. It might be possible to challenge the council.

For more information on applying to the council as homeless when you are at risk of abuse, click here.

My accommodation is overcrowded or in very poor condition

The council might accept you’re legally homeless if it is legally overcrowded or there’s a significant risk to the health of you or your family because the accommodation is in such a bad condition.

Useful evidence could include:

  • an environmental health report following a health and safety assessment of your home
  • a letter from your GP or other health professional confirming how conditions in your home affect your health.

When looking at the condition of your accommodation, the council should take into account your needs, for example if you have children or if you or a member of your family is disabled.

The council is less likely to decide you’re legally homeless if your area has a lot of housing in poor conditions. The council compares your housing conditions to general housing conditions in the area.

I can’t afford to stay where I am

The council should consider you to be homeless if you can’t afford to pay all of your housing costs without depriving yourself of basic essentials such as food, clothing or heating.

This also applies if you haven’t got enough money to be able to return to accommodation that is still available for you. However, in this situation the council may offer to pay for you to return rather than provide you with accommodation itself.

There’s nowhere to put my houseboat or caravan

The council should consider you to be homeless if you live in a movable structure such as a houseboat or caravan, and there is no place where you are allowed to keep it or live in it.

Am I threatened with homelessness?

The council should consider you to be legally threatened with homelessness if you are likely to become homeless within 56 days. This may apply if:

  • you rent your home and have received a valid notice of eviction from your landlord
  • you are a homeowner and your lender has written to tell you that they are taking court action to repossess your home.

In situations like this, the council should carry out an assessment of your housing needs straight away and, if you meet certain criteria, offer you some help to try and stop you from becoming homeless (under the ‘prevention duty‘). This may include offering to speak with your landlord or lender to see if you can stay in your home or, perhaps, trying to agree some more time with your landlord or lender so that the council can help you find other accommodation.

What if the council says I am not legally homeless?

If the council decides that you’re not homeless or threatened with homelessness, it has to tell you in writing. The letter must explain the reasons why the council has come to that decision. It must also inform you that you have a right to request a review of the decision within 21 days.

If you are not homeless or threatened with homelessness and you are already in emergency accommodation provided by the council, you will probably be asked to leave. The council should inform you in writing that you have to leave.

Can I get the council to change its decision?

If you think the council’s decision is wrong, get urgent help. If you want the council to review its decision, you have to ask it to do so within 21 days of receiving the decision letter. An adviser may be able to:

  • look into the reasons for the decision and help you work out whether you have a good chance of getting the council to change its decision
  • help you put together the information you will need to provide for the review
  • convince the council to provide accommodation until the review is completed
  • help you to appeal further if the council still refuses to help you
  • help you find somewhere else to live if the council will not accept that you are homeless.

We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 08000 495 495.

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This page was last updated on: Mawrth 7, 2024

Shelter Cymru acknowledges the support of Shelter in allowing us to adapt their content. The information contained on this site is updated and maintained by Shelter Cymru and only gives general guidance on the law in Wales. It should not be regarded or relied upon as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.