Published: 30 July 2010

A person who has nowhere to live, or is about to lose their home, may be eligible for assistance from their local authority (council). However, the law on what kind of assistance councils are obliged to provide can be complex and an HIV-positive status is no guarantee of getting help.

The first step to receiving assistance is for the person (the ‘applicant’) to let their local authority know about the situation. The easiest way to do this is usually by going to the local authority’s housing offices and asking for the person who deals with homelessness.

The applicant will be asked to fill out a form with details of their current situation. They will also be interviewed by a homelessness officer.

Applicants may need to take:

  • identification – like a passport or driving licence
  • proof of income – such as a payslip or letter about benefits
  • proof of any tenancy agreement
  • letters from their landlord if they are being evicted
  • letters from flatmates if they are being asked to leave.

A person doesn’t have to be sleeping rough to be considered homeless. According to the housing charity, Shelter, it’s possible to be considered legally homeless if someone is:

  • living in poor conditions that affect their health
  • temporarily staying with friends or family
  • staying at a hostel or bed and breakfast
  • living somewhere they have no legal right to be (like a squat).


To be eligible for housing assistance, applicants must:

  • be a British citizen who is habitually resident in the UK,
  • be a European national with a right of residence who is habitually resident in the UK, or
  • have been granted refugee status, indefinite leave to remain, discretionary leave to remain or humanitarian protection.

Eligibility for non-British citizens, especially European nationals can be incredibly complex, and it is recommended to get specialist advice.

On the basis of the application the local authority will assess whether they have a duty to offer emergency accommodation. This is based on ‘priority need’. 

People considered to be in priority need include:

  • pregnant women and the people who live with them
  • people made homeless due to flood, fire or other disaster
  • young people aged 16-17 (with exceptions if they have been in care for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14)
  • other people who are particularly vulnerable.

The last category is where people living with HIV could claim to be in priority need.

The official definition of vulnerability is: “When homeless the person is less able to fend for himself than the ordinary homeless person so that injury or detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable man would be able to cope without harmful effects.”

This definition can be interpreted in different ways by different local authorities. It can refer to someone with a disability, who has a physical or mental illness, or is elderly.

An HIV diagnosis alone may not be enough to qualify someone living with HIV as being ‘vulnerable’.

Meeting other criteria

The local authority may also check that:

  • the applicant did not become intentionally homeless. This includes cases in which the applicant could have paid rent at previous accommodation, but refused to do so.
  • the applicant has a local connection with the district. These connections could include local employers, family or having previously lived in the area. If there is no local connection the applicant may be passed on to another local authority.

What happens next

If the applicant is considered legally and unintentionally homeless, eligible for assistance, and in priority need, then the local authority has to:

  • immediately find somewhere for the applicant to stay while it looks into their situation
  • find somewhere for them to stay longer-term.

They will then be moved into a house, flat, or a bed and breakfast or hostel.

Families with dependent children or pregnant women should only be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation in an emergency and then only for a maximum of six weeks.

If the applicant is not in priority need or intentionally homeless the local authority must assess the applicant’s housing needs before offering advice and assistance on finding somewhere to live.

Appealing the decision

If an application is rejected, the applicant has 21 days to request a review of the decision. While the local authority reviews the application the applicant can submit further evidence of their situation.

If the review fails an appeal can be made to the county court. The local authority has no duty to provide accommodation while the review takes place.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.