I have nowhere to live - what happens now?
If you are homeless or in danger of losing your home you should contact the Housing Needs Team at Surrey Heath Borough Council and speak to a Housing Officer.
The Housing Officer can tell you about the rights you have in your current home, how you can protect and enforce those rights, the options and assistance you can get to help you find somewhere else to live, and who else is able to help and advise you.
If your home is at risk you will usually be advised to stay there for as long as legally possible as this give you time to sort out your housing difficulties, or look for a new home. You will not be expected to stay if it is not reasonable for you to do so (for example if you are at risk of violence or if you cannot afford to carry on living in the property).
When you come to the Council about your housing situation and we have reason to believe you are homeless or threatened with homelessness we then have to make further enquiries into your circumstances.
The Homelessness Legislation - The Housing Act 1996 Part VIII (as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002)
A "duty" is the help that the law says you must have and the Council has various duties to those people who find themselves homeless. The duty owed to you is decided by outcome of enquiries the Council makes into your circumstances.
The Council has to make enquiries to decide whether you:
- Are "eligible" for assistance
- Are homeless or threatened with homelessness
- Have a "priority need"
- Are homeless "intentionally"
- Have a "local connection"
More detail about each of these enquiries is available below:
Am I eligible for assistance?
You will normally be eligible if you are a British citizen, a Commonwealth citizen who has the rights to live in the United Kingdom, or a citizen of a member state of the European Economic area.
You are not eligible for assistance if you are not habitually resident in the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Isles or if you are subject to immigration control. There are some exceptions to the rules and the Housing Officer will advise you more fully.
If you are considered not eligible, the Council will still provide you with advice about keeping your current accommodation or looking for somewhere else to live.
If you do not agree with the Council's decision about your eligibility, you can ask for it to be reviewed (see below)
Am I Homeless?
The law says that you are homeless if:
- You have no accommodation in which you have a right to live
- You have accommodation but cannot gain entry to it
- It is not 'reasonable' for you to continue living in your accommodation
- There is nowhere for all your household to live together
- You are at risk of violence or threats of violence that may be carried out if you remain in your accommodation
- Your home is a moveable structure and you have nowhere to place it.
If you are not homeless or threatened with homelessness then you will still be offered advice and assistance on the options available to help you solve your housing problems.
If you do not agree with the decision that you are not homeless then you can ask for your case to be reviewed (see below).
Do I have a "priority need" for accommodation?
You have a priority need if:
- You have a dependent child living with you, or who might reasonably be expected to live with you
- You are pregnant or might reasonably be expected to live with a pregnant woman
- You are 16 or 17 and not receiving certain help from social services, or under 21 and previously did receive certain help from social services
- You are homeless because of an emergency such as a fire, flood or other disaster
You will also have a priority need if you are 'vulnerable' because of:
- Old age, mental illness or disability, physical disability or some other special reason
- Having had accommodation from social services
- Having been in the armed forces
- Having served time in prison
- Having had to leave your home because of violence or threats that are likely to be carried out.
Just having been in the armed forces does not give you a 'priority need'. The experience needs to have led to you being 'vulnerable', meaning you are less able to fend for yourself than somebody else who is homeless.
If you are eligible for assistance, homeless and have a priority need, or if the Council considers you may meet these criteria, and you have nowhere to live, the Council will provide you with temporary accommodation while the enquiries into your application are completed.
If you are considered eligible, homeless but do not have a priority need we will look at your circumstances and advise you what housing there is in the area and how you can find somewhere to live. If you have not yet had to leave your home we will help you to keep that home.
If the Council finds you do not have a priority need and you do not agree with the decision you can ask for your case to be reviewed (see below).
Am I intentionally homeless?
You are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, intentionally if:
- you deliberately did (or didn't do) something
- that caused you to leave accommodation
- which you could otherwise have stayed in, and
- it would have been reasonable for you to stay there
If you are found to be eligible, homeless, in priority need but intentionally homeless we will provide you with accommodation for a while so that you have a chance to find another home.
We will work with you to help you do that by assessing your circumstances and providing you with advice and assistance.
If you have children, we will ask you if you would like to be referred to Social Services, who will be able to assess your family's needs to see if they are able to help you. This does not mean they will be looking to take your children away from you - they will be looking at what help can be given to you.
If the Council finds you intentionally homeless and you do not agree with the decision you can ask for your case to be reviewed (see below).
Do I have a local connection?
You have a local connection if:
- You are living, or have lived in the area for 6 out of the last 12 months, or 3 out of the last 5 years
- You are employed in the area (although not on a casual basis)
- You have a family association with the area (which means that you have parents, adult children, brothers or sisters, who have lived in the area for 5 years)
- You can point to special circumstances, which the Council will consider on an individual basis
If you do not have a local connection with Surrey Heath the Council will refer you to a Council where you have a local connection, provided that you are not at risk of violence there. They will then have the "main housing duty" (see below)
If you have no connection anywhere in Great Britain then the main housing duty will be with the Council to which you have applied for assistance.
If the Council finds you do not have a local connection and you do not agree with the decision you can ask for your case to be reviewed.
The 'Main Housing Duty'
If the Council finds that you are eligible, homeless, in priority need, unintentionally homeless and with a local connection we will provide you with temporary accommodation.
Unfortunately, although the Council has the aim of ending the use of bed and breakfast except in emergencies, we are not in that position at the moment. If you are placed in bed and breakfast it will be for the shortest time possible.
The temporary accommodation the Council provides for you will last until you:
- Are no longer eligible for assistance
- Accept an offer of accommodation from the Council's Housing Register
- Accept a private sector tenancy
- Refuse a reasonable offer of accommodation
- Voluntarily stop living in the accommodation
- Become intentionally homeless from the accommodation (eg by not paying your rent, causing a serious nuisance, etc.).
If you are accepted as homeless, the Council has a duty to provide you with accommodation until you find settled housing. This duty will only end when:
- you are made a final offer of a Housing Association tenancy or shared ownership property from the Housing Register (please note Surrey Heath Borough Council has a policy of only making one offer of suitable accommodation); or,
- you are made a private rented sector offer of a home with private landlord.
What if I don't agree with the Council's decision?
If you do not agree with the Council's decision on certain aspects of your application you can request that a more senior officer review the decision. You will be advised on how to do this when you are informed of the Council's decision.
If you are not successful on review you can appeal to the County Court on a point of law. You can also use the Council's Complaints Procedure if you do not feel you have been treated fairly or make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman if your application has not been administered correctly.
Do you need further advice?
The above is a summary of the law in relation to homelessness: as well as the Housing Act 1996 (as amended), the Council must have regard to guidance from the Government and to case law (that is decisions already made in a Court of Law).
Please call and speak to a member of the Council's Housing Needs Team to discuss the above or any other housing issues in relation to your individual circumstances.
For independent advice you can contact Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter, or seek advice from a solicitor.