To get help if you are homeless or to go on to the council housing register, you must be eligible. The law defines who is and is not eligible, in terms of immigration status and habitual residence. The law is different for people from within the European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK and those from elsewhere. It is also different in Wales compared with England.
Rules about who can actually apply for a housing allocation in England are likely to vary in future between local authority areas, because on 18 June 2012 the Localism Act introduced changes which enable councils to set their own local rules about who can apply to be on a housing register or waiting list. In 2013, the government issued further guidance recommending councils in England to require people applying for housing in their area to have lived there for two years, but also suggested that there be exceptions - for example people having work or family connections with the area. Councils must still ensure that their policies do not discriminate directly or indirectly against particular nationalities or ethnic groups (for more on this see the page on what is discrimination?).
The rules and guidance do not affect homelessness assistance and do not apply to Wales. Wales is reviewing its eligibility law in 2014.
To be eligible for housing in England, EEA nationals must have a right to reside in the UK:
- A right to reside can be gained by EEA workers and self-employed people.
- There are some special rules about working that apply to Croatians.
- In some cases, people who are temporarily unable to work are also eligible: see EEA workers and self-employed people and Bulgarians, Romanians and Croatians.
- Other EEA nationals who are studying or self-sufficient may also be eligible in some circumstances but will have to pass the habitual residence test.
- Family members of eligible EEA nationals are usually eligible, even when they are not themselves EEA nationals.
- Some rights to reside, such as those for people looking for work who have never worked, or who have previously left the labour market, do not make people eligible.
In Wales any EEA national is eligible if s/he can pass the habitual residence test, and those who are covered by the rules on work and self-employment do not have to pass the test.
People from outside the EEA
Citizens of countries from outside the EEA are generally subject to immigration control and need permission to enter or remain in the UK. The eligibility rules for England say that only some people subject to immigration control are eligible:
- Refugees, people with discretionary leave, humanitarian protection or exceptional leave following an application for asylum, and people brought to the UK on the special settlement programme for Afghan interpreters are eligible provided their leave does not include a public funds restriction.
- People with indefinite leave to remain are eligible (with some exceptions) but have to pass the habitual residence test.
- Generally, people with other forms of limited leave to remain are not eligible.
In Wales, in addition to those eligible in England (except the Afghan interpreters), people from Turkey and Macedonia who have a legal right to live in the UK and are habitually resident are eligible for a housing allocation and for homelessness help, and certain other people may get homelessness assistance.
Most other people from outside Europe are not eligible for housing and homelessness help. Social services departments may be able to help some people (e.g. people with social care needs) get accommodation in emergencies. There are also special services for people fleeing domestic violence. There may also be some help available from charities for people who are homeless and destitute.