What is priority need?

Certain categories of people should be accepted as being in priority need for homelessness assistance. The priority need categories in Wales are set out below.

If you are in priority need the council will probably have a legal duty to:

In most cases, you will be in priority need if you or one of the people included in your application falls into one of the following categories:

Pregnant women

The council should consider any pregnant woman in the household to be in priority need. You will probably have to provide proof of the pregnancy from a doctor, midwife or other medical expert.

If you suffer a miscarriage, the council may still consider you to be in priority need on the basis that you are vulnerable for some other special reason (see below).

People responsible for dependent children

The council should consider you to be in priority need if you are responsible for dependent children who normally live with you (or would do if you had accommodation where you could all live together) and who are:

  • under 16, or
  • under 19 and in full time education or training.

If the children are only living with you for part of the time (for example every other week) it can be complicated. You should tell the council the normal arrangements for care of the children and be prepared to talk about financial arrangements between you and any other person caring for the children.

If your children are being ‘looked after’ by social services, the council should speak with social services and decide whether they remain dependent on you.

People made homeless by fire, flood or other disaster

The council has to accept that you are in priority need if you had to leave your home because of any disaster or emergency such as fire or flood.

Young people aged 16 or 17

All 16 and 17 year old’s in Wales are automatically in priority need. Provided you are 16 or 17 on the date that you apply to the council for help you will remain in priority need even if you turn 18 by the time the council make their decision.

The housing department may want to check whether you could go back home to live with your parents or carers. They cannot force you to go back, especially if your parents or carers have been violent or abusive in the past. If you don’t want the council to contact your parents or carers you can ask them not to.

The housing department will probably contact the social services department to make sure that all of your needs are met when deciding what help to give you. If this happens, the housing department should provide you with emergency accommodation in the meantime.

See the pages on advice for young people for more information and advice.

People aged 18 – 20 who are at particular risk

Young people aged 18-20 who are at risk of sexual or financial exploitation are in priority need.

This could apply if:

  • you are at risk of sexual abuse or prostitution;
  • you have learning difficulties;
  • you are being unreasonably controlled by someone, financially or otherwise;
  • your income is far less than your outgoings and you are vulnerable because you do not have any other money.

These are just examples and you may be in priority need under this category for other reasons. If you feel you are at risk then make sure you tell the council so that they can help you.

Provided you are 18 or over but under the age of 21 on the date that you apply to the council for help, you will remain in priority need under this category, even if you turn 21 by the time the council make their decision.

Victims of domestic abuse

You should be considered to be priority need if you have suffered domestic abuse or would be at risk of domestic abuse if you returned home.

Domestic abuse is when someone close to you (usually your spouse, partner, civil partner or other relative) behaves towards you in a way that causes physical, mental, or emotional damage. It need not necessarily be physical violence and includes sexual abuse and threatening or intimidating behaviour.

See the pages on Domestic Abuse and Homelessness for more information and advice.

Contact the free 24 hr Live Fear Free Helpline 0808 8010 800 if you need help now.

Armed forces personnel

If you used to serve in the regular Armed Forces, and have been homeless since leaving those forces, you are in priority need. Being homeless means not having suitable permanent accommodation and it should not matter how long ago you were discharged, so long as you have been homeless since that time.

If you have been in settled accommodation since discharge, but have now become homeless, you will not have an automatic priority need. The council should however still consider whether you are vulnerable due to some special reason (see below), which could include your history in the armed forces.

The Welsh Government has produced a National Housing Pathway for Ex-Service Personnel which contains housing advice and support for you and your family if you were in the Armed Forces.

Vulnerable as a result of time in prison

If you have spent time in custody or detention and the council consider you to be vulnerable as a result of that time in prison, then you will be in priority need provided you have a local connection with the area.

The time in prison may have been spent on remand or after serving a sentence, and could have been at any time in your life.

When deciding if you are vulnerable as a result of the time you have spent in prison the council should consider:

  • the length of time you were in prison;
  • any trauma or difficulties you suffered whilst in prison;
  • how long ago you were released from prison;
  • whether you have managed to find and keep accommodation since leaving prison;
  • whether you have had any support, supervision or care since leaving prison.

To be in priority need, the council must be satisfied that, as a direct result of your time in prison, you are less able to fend for yourself if you were to become street homeless than an ordinary person who may become homeless.

People aged 18-20 who have spent time in care

Anyone between the ages of 18 and 20, who has been in care at any time while they were a child, is in priority need. You do not need to have just left care and provided you have spent at least one night in care during your childhood you will be in priority need.

Being in care includes being looked after by social services, by a voluntary organisation, in a private children’s home, accommodated by the NHS or being privately fostered.

Provided you are 18 or over but under the age of 21 on the date that you apply to the council for help, you will remain in priority need under this category, even if you turn 21 by the time the council make their decision.

Even if you are over 21 when you apply to the council you may still be in priority need if the council think you are vulnerable as a result of some special reason (see below), particularly if you have been in care and do not have anywhere else to go for support.

If you are a care leaver, social services also have a duty to help you until you reach the age of 21, or, if you are in continuing further education, until you are 24.

If you are entitled to help from both housing and social services departments, they should work together to provide whatever help you need. For example, social services can ask the housing department to house you. They are not allowed just to tell you that they can’t help you and send you to the other department. If this happens, get help immediately.

Vulnerable as a result of some special reason

The council should decide that you are in priority need if you are vulnerable as a result of some special reason. In deciding whether you are vulnerable, the council should look at all the facts of your case and consider whether your personal circumstances and needs would make it more difficult for you to cope if you were street homeless than any other ordinary person who might become homeless.

It may decide that you are vulnerable because:

  • you are an older person
  • you have a physical or learning disability or mental health problems
  • or there is some other special reason why you are vulnerable.

Another special reason might be:

  • you are a young person and vulnerable because you don’t have support from family or friends, have slept on the streets in the past or have problems with drugs or alcohol
  • you have been the victim of violence or abuse and would be at risk of further violence or abuse if you returned home
  • you are at risk of harassment or abuse on account of your gender, race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation
  • you have been sleeping rough.

Just because you may fall into one of these categories does not automatically mean that the council will consider you to be priority need. For example, you may have an illness but the council may not consider you to be vulnerable if it can be controlled by medication, or, you maybe over 60 but not considered to be vulnerable if you are in good health. The council should consider each case on its own facts and is not allowed to have policies assuming that a particular type of person is, or is not, vulnerable.

Make sure you tell the council about any personal circumstances that make it difficult for you to deal with your housing situation. If you can, take with you to the council any medical information or letters from people who give you care or support. The council may ask you to sign a form allowing the council to contact medical professionals or other people involved in your care. In some cases the council may get an opinion from another medical professional to help them make a decision.

People who are street homeless

The council should decide that you are in priority need if you are street homeless. Anyone who can be reasonably expected to live with you should also be included on your homelessness application.

Being ‘street homeless’ means that you have no accommodation available to you that you can live in.

What if the council decides I am not in priority need?

If the council decides that you or none of the people included in your application are in priority need , it has no further duty to help you other than give you some general information and advice. If the council has already provided you with emergency housing whilst it was carrying out checks and making it’s decision then it can ask you to leave.

If the council considers that you are not priority need it has to inform you in writing. The letter must explain the reasons why the council has come to that decision. It must also inform you of your right to request a review of the decision within 21 days. If this happens, you should get help immediately to see if you can challenge the council’s decision. If you are unable to request a review, or if your review is unsuccessful an adviser can help you consider your alternative housing options.

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: January 3, 2023

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.