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Emergency housing

If you are homeless or in danger of losing your home in the next 56 days the council might have to help you. In some situations the council may offer you emergency housing while they are deciding what other help to give you. This is sometimes known as ‘emergency or interim accommodation’.


If you are sleeping rough, or at risk of finding yourself on the street, the council should decide that you are in priority need and give you emergency housing. This is because coronavirus can spread very easily and if you are sleeping on the streets it is very difficult for you to keep to the government health advice for hygiene, self-isolation and social distancing.

If you are in this situation and the council decides you are not in priority need, or says it cannot help you, get advice from Shelter Cymru straight away.

For more information about what the council can do to help you during the pandemic, click here.

Will I get emergency housing straight away?

The council has to provide you with emergency housing while it looks into your situation only if it has reason to believe you may be:

Each of these terms has a special legal meaning.

The council doesn’t have to be certain that you meet each of these criteria, it just has to have ‘reason to believe’ that you might meet them. If the council is in any doubt about whether you meet them, it should provide emergency housing whilst it decides what other help to give you. This is the case even if the council suspects that you may not have a local connection with the area or may have made yourself homeless intentionally.

If you think the council should have offered you emergency housing but have not done so then get urgent advice.

What is emergency housing offered by the council like?

The type of emergency housing provided varies from council to council and might be a hostel, a refuge, Bed & Breakfast or even a flat owned by a private landlord.

The emergency housing should be suitable for you and your household. When deciding what it suitable, the council should consider the circumstances of you and all members of your household, including:

  • how long you are likely to be there
  • how much rent you can afford
  • the condition and size of the accommodation
  • where the accommodation is
  • any health needs you may have
  • social factors (such as whether you need to be close to support services, family or special schools).

Councils should offer Bed & Breakfast accommodation as a last resort and only for very short-term stays. If the council do offer you a Bed & Breakfast for emergency accommodation check that you will be able to use the room during the day and that you will have somewhere to cook a meal. Ask how long you are likely to be there and ask the council to move you  somewhere more suitable as soon as possible.

If you are 16 or 17, or are a family with dependent children or are pregnant, you should only be placed in Bed and Breakfast in an emergency, and should not have to stay there for any longer than six weeks.

If you are offered somewhere that you don’t think is suitable, you should tell the council why you don’t think it is suitable. If the council doesn’t offer you anything else, get advice. An adviser may be able to help you to convince the council that you should be offered something more suitable for your needs.

For more advice about the suitability of accommodation offered by the council, click here.

Can I choose to ‘stay put’ in my current accommodation instead?

Instead of moving into emergency accommodation, you may prefer to stay put where you are for a temporary period whilst the council are deciding what other help to give you. This could be, for example, sofa-surfing with friends, or staying with family.

To do this you will need to get the council’s agreement and make sure you stay in touch with them to check they are still dealing with your application. The council should treat you as ‘homeless at home’.

The council might decide you’re not legally homeless if it thinks you can live with friends or family in the longer-term.

Will I have to pay?

Yes, you will have to pay rent and you may have to pay other charges for things like meals or cleaning services. The rent and charges must be reasonable and the council should consider whether it is affordable for you before they offer it to you.

If you are on benefits or a low income you may be eligible for housing benefit or universal credit housing costs but this may not cover all your rent and it won’t cover any other charges.

How long can I stay?

You should be able to stay in the emergency housing until the council makes a decision about whether it can give you more help. The council may decide:

  • that it has to help you to find a home (“the duty to help secure accommodation”). If this happens you will probably be able to stay in the emergency housing whilst the council takes reasonable steps to help you find another home
  • that you are not entitled to further help. If this happens, the council should send you a ‘notice of end of duty letter’. You will have the right to request a review of this decision but you must act quickly and ask for this within 21 days. You can ask the council to let you stay in the emergency housing whilst the review is carried out.

If you are being asked to leave emergency housing then get advice quickly.

What happens to my furniture and belongings?

If the council gives you emergency housing it also has to take reasonable steps to protect your belongings. This only applies if your property is at risk and you cannot make arrangements to protect it yourself. This could be because:

  • You can’t afford to arrange removals or storage
  • You are too ill to arrange anything.

Most councils will put your household goods (such as furniture) into storage. They must make sure they are safe until you are able to protect them yourself or the council no longer has a responsibility to provide accommodation for you. The council will probably charge you for looking after your belongings.

For more advice on protection of your belongings, click here.

What happens if I refuse an offer of emergency housing or decide to leave emergency housing offered to me?

If you:

  • refuse an offer of emergency housing which the council thinks is suitable for you, or
  • decide to leave emergency housing which the council thinks is suitable for you,

the council can decide not to offer you anything else whilst it continues to make enquiries and work out what other help it can give you.

If you do not think the emergency housing is suitable, or, if you  have problems in the accommodation (such as being harassed by other residents) you should inform the council and get advice as soon as possible. An adviser may be able to help you to convince the council that you should be offered something more suitable for your needs.

Where can I get help?

Being placed in temporary emergency accommodation may leave you feeling isolated and stressed. We have put together a few tips that can assist you in our Temporary Accommodation Survival Guide :

TA Survival Guide – ENG

TA Survival Guide – CYM

You can also get advice from Shelter Cymru’s expert housing advisers by ringing our helpline or using our webchat.

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.

Phone an adviser

If you have a housing problem, call our expert housing advice helpline
08000 495 495

Email an adviser

If you have a non-urgent problem and would like to speak to an adviser
email us

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This page was last updated on: December 2, 2020

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.