Who is classed as homeless?

You don't have to be living on the streets to be homeless. You may be legally classed as homeless if you are disabled and unable to return home because your home is no longer accessible to you, or if you are living in your own home but the house is not suitable for you to live there independently.

If you are homeless and you are in a Spinal Injury Centre you should speak to your discharge officer/case manager or your local housing advice staff who are there to help you understand your current housing situation or need.

If you are not at a Spinal Injury Centre or in hospital then you need to speak directly with your local housing team.

What are my options?

Think very carefully about what you would like to do; try to be realistic about what can be done to your home or where you would like to live. We often love our homes and want to stay there at all costs so that the daily norm is not disrupted. However, this may not be a viable long term solution.

If you need to move home, you can get advice and assistance from your local homelessness team or housing team. Depending on your personal circumstances the local authority may not have to provide you with a home, but they do have to give you practical advice and support to find a home.

How to apply to your local authority for housing

Each local authority may have slightly different processes.

If your home is not adaptable, and you are not in a position to buy or rent one on the open market, then you have a few choices.

Local authority social housing is in short supply but you need to get yourself and your family on to the housing list. Not everyone is eligible for social housing and your case manager will be able to let you know if you are.

Please note that even if you are eligible, given how few wheelchair accessible or adaptable properties are available, you are not guaranteed a property in the short term.

One of the important things to remember is that while your local authority does not have a legal requirement to house you it does have an obligation to help you by giving you advice on finding a new home. What their obligation is will depend on your personal circumstances. The first thing they will look for is whether or not you have a local connection to that area. They will then look at your financial situation, whether you could afford to pay a market rent, or buy your own home. They will also look in-depth at your income and savings.

Your local connection

You will need to establish a “local connection” for an authority to accept you on their housing list.
To ensure you have a connection you need the following:

  • Have lived in the area for a set amount of time – this is usually a year but varies from authority to authority.
  • Have family connections in the area.
  • Your parents still live there.
  • Your children are there.
  • You grew up there.
  • You work in the area.
  • If you do not have a local connection with one authority, they can insist you go to one where you have a clearer connection.

The time spent in the hospital will not usually count towards establishing a time line and create a local connection.

If you are not British, you will need to get advice on what housing rights you have. This can be complicated to resolve but they will need to look into where you are from, how long you have been here, what type of visa you entered Great Britain with and what your current status is.

If you are British you have the right to return to Britain at any time. However, it does not give you the right to access social housing and services. If you have been living abroad you will need to check on your rights and determine that you have a local connection and that you have a right to reside in a particular area. You may need to pass the “habitual residency test” to prove this. They will look at the reasons around why you left, what the purpose was for your leaving and whether it was your intention to leave the country to emigrate.

The habitual residency test will be used to establish where you are deemed to be residing. If you should fail this test then you will not be eligible to apply for social housing and you will need to look for a temporary housing solution while you build up time back in Britain. Once you re-establish your residency rights in Britain you will be able to reapply for social housing. At the point of your reapplication you may not be able to register as homeless.

Whatever you do you, always ensure that you get proper housing advice.

Some other reasons why you may not be offered housing from your authority are:

- Past rent arrears.
- Had previously made yourself intentionally homeless.
- Have a record for harassment or serious crime.
- You were evicted for previous breaches of tenancy agreement.

Once it is agreed that you are eligible for local housing they will then take all of the information that you provided and use that to work out your level of priority. Some call these “banding” or “points” systems.

If you are homeless your priority should be at the top of the list. However, we have found that housing departments can often under-score people. We find that local authorities often set your score before they have added any medical points. If when you receive your confirmation letter you are not in a high priority band then call them (or go in to the office) and ask for an urgent medical assessment. Make sure that all of your needs have been taken into account (care, access, and family support.) Once this is all added you may find that you are given higher priority. Once you have your final score, which may be a Banding A or points, depending on the system, you can join the “bidding process”.

Can I move with my entire family?

When seeking new or alternative housing they will re-house you, your spouse/partner and dependent children up to 16 years old. Please be aware that if you have adult children still living with you, or you are a young person (over 17- 18) still living with your parents, the housing team do not have to re-house you all together. They only have a responsibility to re-house you and your child dependants. They will expect older children to find their own housing, or expect your parents to stay in the parental home. Some authorities are better than others at agreeing to try to keep the adult family members together but they are not obliged to do so.

Once they have established who they will house with you they will then work out how many rooms you may be entitled to.  They have a formula for working this out.

Over the last few years there have been many changes, one of which is to have brought in the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) This sets the level of rent that you can claim via housing benefit anywhere in your area. It sets out the maximum rent allowable based on the number of bedrooms in your home.

Another change has been the cap on the number of bedrooms you can claim housing benefit for depending on the number of people living in your home.

Bedrooms
You are allowed one bedroom for:
• every adult couple (married or unmarried),
• any other adult aged 16 or over,
• up to two children under age 10,
• up to two children of the same sex aged 16 or under.
• a carer where it is essential for a live in care to be present.

As you can see, this makes no provision for a couple who need to sleep in separate rooms on medical grounds. These issues will need to be raised directly with the housing departments as exceptions.

Once the local authority agrees to help you they will send you a letter to inform you of where you are on the waiting list, sometimes called housing register, housing list or priority list.  This will be based on your current housing need:

Are you homeless? Living in a house that is not fully accessible to you? Overcrowded?
Then they will look at the other physical needs you have and those of family members that will be living with you.

Bidding process

Most authorities now have their housing vacancies listed on the internet or in local papers. Usually once a week these pages are updated and any new properties will come on line. People are allowed to make a bid based on how many points they have or the banding they have been placed in. When you make a bid you are basically letting the authority know that you are interested in that property and wish to view and rent the property. There is no guarantee that you will be offered the property or that you will even be offered a viewing.

Some of the properties will be protected and only available to a specific client group, so you will see properties listed for young people (under 25), older people (usually over 65), families needing level threshold (may not be wheelchair accessible) and then wheelchair accessible.

Please note that in some cases any adapted property or those suitable for wheelchair users will be ring-fenced and not advertised. The local authority can hold these back and make offers directly to people on the list in need of a wheelchair-accessible property.

Please make sure you know what you can bid for and how your local authority allocates accessible properties.

If you are not able to access a computer, or do not have easy access to one, make sure you let the housing department know and they will make arrangements to bid for you. However, when and if you can, it would be beneficial for you to have a friend or family member to look for you as well.

If you are living in London there is now a disabled housing register for which most of the LAs have registered. Any adapted property should be shown on this system and it is clear which properties are wheelchair accessible or can be adapted.

Other ways of finding housing

Housing Association property

Most housing associations work alongside the local authority so, once you are on the housing register, you will be shown housing association properties. However, some housing associations have properties that are known as “self-referrals” or general needs housing. You can apply directly to the housing associations for these. However, they are rarely adapted and hard to come by. There are some housing associations that specialise in adapted properties and you will find these on your local authority website. Contact housing associations in your area and find out how to apply direct.

Shared ownership schemes

With some housing associations or shared ownership housing providers you can enter into an agreement to “part buy” or “shared ownership”. This is where you purchase part of a property and you rent the rest directly from the housing association. The aim is that ultimately you work your way up into owning the entire property over time. You will need to be able to pay for the part you buy, either in cash or mortgage, and rent the rest. The rental side can be paid using housing benefit. Be aware that moving can be difficult as some housing associations or shared ownership scheme operators may not have an obligation to buy back your part of the house and it can be difficult to sell only half a house! Check the buy-back policy so that you are sure before you invest. Whatever you decide please make sure you get proper financial advice.

Renting from a private landlord

Going down the private rental route can be a mixed bag of fortunes. Most private rentals are not fully adapted or accessible and there is not a legal obligation for landlords to allow you to make structural or major changes but they do have a responsibility to allow you to make minor ones. Where they do allow major changes, such as changing a bathroom into a wetroom or adapting a kitchen, they also have the right to demand that when you leave you change things back to the original layout. While you can apply for funding to complete the adaptations there is no funding available to reverse these changes.

Always check your lease or tenancy agreement to see the wording regarding building works and adaptations. Check that you are allowed to complete works to the flat itself and be aware that you may not be allowed to change things in communal spaces like entrance doorways and halls.

There are some very good landlords and some very good properties, so it can be worth trying.

Housing co-operatives

A co-operative is a smaller version of a housing association with at least one major difference – the members of the co-op collectively manage and own the properties. However, there are very few of these left in the UK and they rarely become available. The Councils do often have referral rights to any vacancies that arise but often word of mouth can be better. Ask around and speak to people who may know when a vacancy is due. Contact the council for information about local housing co-operatives and then get in touch with them directly.

Paying your rent/mortgage

Rent deposits- most landlords will ask for a deposit or rent in advance (housing associations tend not to do this at present).

If you cannot afford to pay a deposit there are some schemes that can help you. Speak to your local authority and ask if they have any scheme in place.  In some cases you will be able to ask for a “budgeting loan”. This is a loan from the Social Fund and will need to be paid back but it is interest-free.

You may be able to ask for a crisis loan which will need to be repaid but can be applied for via your local authority. These need to be repaid within 78 weeks and the repayments are usually taken directly from your income support payments or your job seeker’s allowance (JSA) Your Local authority may also run a scheme where you can ask for help and they will provide you with furniture and white goods rather than the funds to purchase these.

There is also a scheme called support mortgage interest (SMI) – this will help pay for the interest on mortgages and some loans.  In order to be able to claim you must be receiving income support, income based or JSA income based employment support allowance.

It can be used for mortgages and loans for home improvements, adaptations, or buying out your ex-partner’s share if you have split up. However, there is a qualifying period for this and again you need to get proper financial advice.

Housing benefit

Not everyone is eligible to receive housing benefit so you will need to get advice before claiming and not assume you will be able to get this.

Housing benefit is paid by the council either directly to your landlord or to you. It is only there to cover your rent, and some service charges. Housing benefit will not pay for water rates, cooking, heating or lighting or for any care.

Housing benefit can only be used to pay rent and not help with mortgage payments.

If you think you are eligible you can claim housing benefit by either downloading the form from your local authority’s own web site or by asking for a form to be sent to you.
Some local authorities will now accept forms filled in on-line; some can be delivered in person or by post. However, before you submit your form ensure you have a copy of anything you send, including the form itself.

You must submit the claim as soon as you move in (if not before) as housing benefit is usually only payable from the first Monday after they have received the application. If you have been delayed for any reason ask for the application to be back-dated to the start of your tenancy, giving a good reason why you were late (needed help completing the forms, were ill, needed a carer to help).

Housing benefit is usually paid in arrears, and can take a number of weeks to process. The more information you submit the easier it is to process.

Any other questions?

If you have any other questions please call us on 020 8420 8950 or email [email protected]