Image: A young child sits on a small double bed in one-room temporary accommodation while an adult tends to a baby in a cot. Photography by Will Robson-Scott.
There are more than 131,000* children living in temporary accommodation because of the housing emergency.
Conditions in temporary housing can be poor. Families can be left for months or even years without knowing when they’ll have somewhere to call home.
It’s no surprise we’re hearing from more and more people needing our help to understand their rights.
Here, our housing experts answer the top 10 most asked questions about temporary accommodation.
1. I’ve heard of both ‘emergency’ and ‘temporary’ accommodation – are they the same?
A. Not quite. Emergency housing is short-term accommodation arranged by the council’s homeless team while they decide if you should get longer-term support.
It’s often basic with shared areas, like a B&B, hostel or refuge.
You could be in emergency accommodation for around two months while the council decides if you should get longer term support.
Not everyone receives emergency housing. The council has to think you meet the immigration conditions, are homeless, and are in priority need – for example, you have children living with you or you are vulnerable because of a medical condition.
Temporary housing comes next after the council decides you should have longer term help.
This might be a room in a shared house, a privately rented flat, or a council or housing association property.
One crucial difference is that you can challenge temporary housing through the council’s review process. You can’t do this with emergency housing.
2. How do I know if I’ll get temporary housing?
A. Unfortunately, councils don’t have to find housing for everyone.
If you’re a long term UK resident and not intentionally homeless, you qualify automatically if you have children living with you, are pregnant, are a young care leaver, or escaping domestic abuse. This is also the case if you’re 16 or 17, although normally social services should help you instead.
You should also get temporary housing if you’re vulnerable, for example, because of disability, age, long term health issues and time spent in the military or prison.
3. How long is ‘temporary’ and how long will I be here?
A. It depends on where in the country you are and what kind of housing you need. There’s no time limit for the council to find you long-term housing.
Some people might only be in temporary accommodation for a few weeks. But it’s far more common to be months or even years. It can be longer if you need a large or adapted property. Soaring rents and a chronic lack of affordable housing are leaving people stuck.
If you’ve been waiting a while, ask the council why. You might be able to force them to find you somewhere more quickly. You can get legal help with this.
4. How much does temporary housing cost, and how is it paid for?
A. Temporary accommodation costs depend on the location and type of housing. Expect to pay a similar amount as if you were privately renting.
You have to pay the costs yourself, but you can get help.
If you receive benefits, you can claim housing benefits from the council even if you get universal credit. The council should not put you somewhere you cannot afford, but if you’re struggling, ask them for extra help or apply for a discretionary housing payment. There might also be other money help you can get.
5. Can I have overnight visitors?
A. You might have limited rights in temporary accommodation. Read any tenancy or licence agreement carefully, and make sure you stick to the rules. If you’re evicted the council could stop helping you.
You can usually have guests during the day but might need permission for people to stay overnight. Talk to the council if you want someone to stay long-term like a partner moving in.
6. The place I’ve been offered is miles away from school and work. What can I do?
A. You should not be at risk of losing your job because of where housing is. Nor should your children’s education be badly affected.
But it’s important that you do not just turn the property down because the council could stop helping.
You can still ask for a review if you accept the offer. It’s better to accept somewhere and ask for a review than risk losing council help. At least try to ask for more time and discuss your concerns with your homeless officer.
It’s not just distance that’s important – it’s also how long it would take and how much it would cost to travel. You can ask for a review on these grounds too.
Be aware that your children might be expected to change schools unless moving would seriously affect their education, for example, if they’re taking GCSEs soon.
7. The house is in an awful condition. What can I do?
A. Talk to your homeless officer. Hopefully, they’ll find somewhere new.
If you’re in emergency housing and your housing officer won’t move you, you can only challenge your accommodation by judicial review, and only in some situations. You’ll need a solicitor.
8. I can’t access my temporary housing easily because of a health condition. Can I ask for a review?
A. You can ask for a review of accommodation if it is not suitable because you have a disability or health condition.
For example, having mobility issues but being housed somewhere up steep stairs with no lift is grounds for review. Get as much evidence as you can – for example from a doctor or occupational therapist. Again, you can get free legal help if you want it.
9. What can I do if I’m asked to leave temporary accommodation?
A. Talk to the council to make sure you understand why. There are lots of reasons you could be asked to leave temporary housing.
Sometimes a landlord might want to stop renting out the accommodation, or the council might need to move you. Usually, the council should give you new accommodation as soon as you have to leave.
If the council asks you to leave because they’re ending their support, they should give you a written decision. Ask for a review if you do not agree. Again, get legal advice.
When you’re in temporary housing, the council usually has to get a court order and apply for court bailiffs to evict you. But it’s different in emergency accommodation, where you can be evicted much more easily.
10. What kind of accommodation will I get next?
A. Most people leaving temporary accommodation end up in private rented housing. Homeless people should get priority on a council’s social housing waiting list, but there’s a huge lack of social housing in many areas. This means getting a council or housing association property isn’t an option for most people.
Like temporary accommodation, any privately rented housing should be suitable for you and your family. The council needs to consider size, location and affordability. And again, if accommodation isn’t suitable you can ask for a review.
*Figure updated in October 2023 to reflect an increase from 120,000 when this blog was first published.
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