What you need to know about emergency and temporary accommodation

This short guide tells you what accommodation the council may offer you when you ask for help because you are homeless, or likely to be homeless soon. This could be council accommodation or somewhere else, like a hotel. It explains important differences between emergency and temporary accommodation and your temporary accommodation rights. If you get temporary accommodation from the council, it tells you what to expect about how long you might be there and what housing you can get when you leave temporary accommodation.
Important things to understand about your housing rights from the start

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We know that lots of people have to stay in poor quality temporary accommodation for far too long. There is not much good quality information on this housing problem for the people who are going through it. Please do our quick survey to tell us what you need help with. 

If you have nowhere to live now (or in the next 56 days) that is suitable for your needs or the needs of the people who would normally live with you, often called your ‘household’, you are entitled to housing help from the council.

What help you can get

  • What help you can get and how quickly you will get it depends on your personal situation.
  • To get any help you need to make a homelessness application to the council. We explain more about how to do this and what requirements you need to meet to get help, in two our guides what to do if you are homeless, and for people who aren’t homeless yet but are worried they will be made homeless soon.

This short guide explains more about the type of accommodation the council will offer you when you ask for help and what rights you have in emergency accommodation and later, your temporary accommodation rights.

The first thing to understand is that emergency accommodation and temporary accommodation are not the same thing. Your rights to better, longer-term housing are different depending on which you are in. We explain more about this next.

September 2023

We have lots of our resources to help you understand more about your housing rights or to help other people with housing problems. If you are looking for help to understand renter's rights or tenant's protections you are in the right place. Our guides show you what to do if you get a section 21 notice, what to do if you may become homeless or are homeless and how to challenge the council's decision about a homelessness application, how to navigate the right to rent checks or how to deal with disrepair, and explain what you need to know about getting a guarantor and what to do if you can't get a guarantor

Emergency accommodation

The Council must provide you with accommodation straight away if they think you:

  • may be homeless,
  • may be eligible for help, and
  • may be in priority need.

We explain what you have to show to meet these requirements in our guide on what to do if you are homeless.

If you meet these requirements, you have a right to what people often call emergency accommodation or sometimes you might hear it called ‘interim accommodation’. Whatever you hear people call it, it means somewhere to stay for a short time because you have nowhere else suitable to live right now, while the council works out if you are entitled to longer-term housing. 

The types of places the council can use to house people in an emergency

The places the council use for emergency accommodation are not meant for long-term living. You should only have stay in emergency accommodation while the council works out if it has a longer-term legal duty to help you with your housing problem. The council should decide this within two months of your application but often they take longer.

You could be offered any of the following:

  • a hostel
  • a property where you have no cooking facilities at all or if you do you have to share them (this includes B&Bs run by social landlords - the council or a housing association)
  • a privately run B&B - you should not be placed here if you are a family with children
  • a hotel
  • a self-contained space like a bed-sit, or flat or house if you are lucky.
None of these places are likely to meet your needs or be what you want as the standard of the accommodation is usually basic, to say the least. But, if you refuse what you are offered by the council, you may find this ends the council’s legal duty to help you at all. This is because refusing accommodation can lead the council to decide you have made yourself homeless on purpose or ‘intentionally’. You can read more about this in our guide about what to do if you are homeless.

Unfortunately, while you are living in emergency accommodation, you don’t have many housing rights. So, for example, you could be told you have to leave with only a week’s notice or even immediately, if you have behaved in a way that is threatening or violent to other people staying in the same place.

You can also be asked to move to another place that still counts as emergency accommodation, at very short notice. It might be the new place is better, but it might not be. Either way, it is best to accept it so that the council doesn’t decide that in refusing it you have made yourself intentionally homeless.

What rights you have exactly will depend on whether you have a tenancy agreement or just a licence. Who your landlord is, is important too. We explain these things next.


A licence is just permission from the landlord for you to stay in a place that they run or own. The permission can be taken away by the landlord more easily than a tenancy agreement. If you are in a hostel, B & B, hotel or shelter you are likely to have a licence. If you are in a self-contained unit like a bedsit, flat or house you are likely to be a tenant even if the landlord has given you a licence agreement.

Tenancy agreements

The housing arrangement you have is usually a tenancy agreement when you have the following three things:

  1. you pay an agreed amount of rent
  2. your agreement is for a set length of time
  3. you have a space that is only for you, that you can exclude other people from.

To understand the rights you might have, you need to work out if you have just a licence or a tenancy agreement. If you don’t feel confident about what you have or what this means you can get advice from Shelter.

If you have a tenancy, you have a right to get repairs done at the place you are living in. You also have a notice period that is worked out by looking at the rental period. So, if you have a monthly tenancy, you are entitled to a month’s notice before you can be made to leave the place you are living in. The landlord does not need a reason to give you notice to leave in this situation.

Regardless of the type of living arrangement you have, (a licence or a tenancy), you can be asked by the council to move to another place at very short notice. You might be able to challenge this, with the help of a lawyer but often it will be better to accept the new place. This is because if you don’t, there is a risk that the council could say you have made yourself homeless. They call this ‘intentional homelessness’. If they decide you have made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ they can end the help they are giving you all together.  

When you are in emergency accommodation, whether you have a tenancy or a licence, it is still very easy for your landlord to evict you. This is because the laws that protect people from being evicted at short notice don’t cover this type of housing.


A landlord is a person or organisation that has some kind of legal ownership of a place where someone else lives.

Depending on the place the council offers you, the council might be your landlord, or your landlord could be someone else. If the place you are offered is owned by the council, then the council is your landlord. If not, the landlord could be an individual.  For example, someone who owns and runs a private hotel or B & B or has their own house or houses they rent out. Another type of landlord is a housing association. This is not one person, but an organisation that owns and runs places for people to live in more permanently.

It is not always clear who your landlord is. The only way to be sure is to look at your licence or tenancy agreement. So, It is really important to get a copy of your licence or tenancy agreement and keep it safe so you know who your landlord is. You need to know who your landlord is for various reasons but it is especially important to know if there is an emergency situation in the place you are living such as a problem with no water or no heating.  
Moving out of emergency accommodation

When the council has finished its assessment of your housing application it will decide what legal duty, if any, it has to help you with housing. You can read more about how the council makes its decision and what you need to do in our guide about what to do if you are homeless.

When an offer of temporary accomodation is made by the council

You will only be offered temporary accommodation if the council decides it has an ongoing duty to house you. You might hear this being called the ‘main housing duty’. When the council makes this decision, it should put it in a letter and send, email or give the letter to you. If you just get told the decision, on the phone or in a meeting, you need to ask for the decision to be put in writing.

At this point, in an ideal world you should be offered longer-term more settled accommodation that you can make a home in. But there is a housing stock crisis in Britain which means that councils don’t have enough housing to offer people and also there are not enough properties being let by private landlords either. This means that if you get to the stage where the council agrees to house you longer-term you can still find yourself and your family waiting for months or even longer in accommodation that looks and feels a lot like the emergency accommodation where you started. It may even be the same accommodation. The difference is that this is called ‘temporary accommodation’, and you are there because the council has decided it must find longer-term housing for you.

If the council decides you are not entitled to ongoing help which they call ‘the main housing duty’ they no longer have a legal duty to help you with your housing problem. You have a right to ask the council to review this decision if you think they have overlooked something important about your housing situation. There is only a short amount of time in which you can do this (three weeks from the date you get the decision letter) so make sure you read more about challenging the council’s decisions on your homelessness application so you can decide what you want to do, in time. 

Temporary accommodation

You should only have to stay in what is called ‘temporary accommodation’ while the council find you a more permanent home. A permanent home in this situation is either a private rental for at least 12 months or a social housing tenancy.

Unfortunately, if you live in areas where there are big shortages of rented homes or social housing then you may have to wait for months or even years, to get what you are entitled to. There is no time limit by which the council must find you a longer-term home.

The types of places you can be offered as temporary accommodation

Your legal rights change if you get moved from interim accommodation to temporary accommodation but the actual types of places the council is allowed to offer you are broadly the same as when you were in interim accommodation. This can feel confusing and frustrating.

You shouldn’t be left in a hotel when the council decides you are entitled to temporary accommodation but sometimes it does happen. Families should get self-contained places to live such as bedsits, flats or houses, but there’s no guarantee.

The place the council offers you should be in your local area. But there is such a shortage of housing in many parts of England that councils are now sending people out of their area if they can show they have nothing suitable within their own area.

Moving out of the area is highly likely to add to your worries, unless you will be safer somewhere else. Depending on your situation you may be able to say that a place out of your local area is not ‘suitable’ for you and the people you live with. We talk more about what this means next.

Your rights while living in temporary accommodation

Again, your rights depend on whether you have a licence or a tenancy agreement – take a look at the last section for a reminder of the difference and where to get help if you are not sure what housing arrangement you have.

Once you are in temporary accommodation, whether you have a tenancy agreement or a licence, you have the right to say to the council you don’t think the place they have offered you meets your and your household’s needs. To do this you need to ask the council to look again at the place they have offered you because you do not think it is ‘suitable’.

When the council looks again at a decision it is called a ‘review’.

There are many different reasons why a place you have been housed in might not be suitable for you. Next, we list some examples.

  • It might be too expensive for you to manage – you need to make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to – if it is still too much you can say you can’t stay there.
  • The condition of the place you are offered might be poor or even very poor. For example, there might be damp problems, heating issues or old wiring might make it unsafe.
  • The place might not be big enough for you and your family – this is called ‘overcrowding’.
  • You or people in your household might have extra needs or health conditions that can’t be met in the place you have been offered – for example if you need to use a wheelchair but there is no way of getting one into the property.
  • The place offered might be too far from your children’s schools. They may just have to move schools but if this would have a serious impact on their education, for example if your child was in the middle of important exams, you could say they need to stay at the current school.
  • If you have a job, the new place offered to you must not mean you lose it – either because you are too far away, or because it would take too long or cost too much to get to work.

How to challenge the place you are offered as temporary accommodation

It is usually a good idea to accept the offer made by the council, even if you think that the place is going to be unsuitable. This is because you can challenge the offer after you have accepted it. If you refuse the offer straight away council might find that you have made yourself homeless on purpose, or ‘intentionally’.  If they decide this, it means they don’t have to help you anymore.

You only have 21 days (3 weeks) to challenge the suitability of the place you have been offered. This is 21 days from the date that you receive the decision letter from the council offering you the place as temporary accommodation. That means if you want to challenge it, you don’t have long. You should try and get legal advice as soon as possible. Our guide on how to challenge the council’s decisions about your housing problem gives you more help and support on this area of law, including information on how to get legal advice. 

Paying rent and other responsibilities when you are living in temporary accommodation


You have to pay rent when you live in temporary accommodation but if you are on a low income you can claim housing benefit and other benefits to help with this. You might also be entitled to a discretionary housing payment from the council.


What repairs or maintenance the landlord or council have to do at the place you live in depends on whether or not you have a licence or a tenancy. So, the first thing to do is find out what you have and what it says.

If the place you are housed in by the council is in a poor condition, make sure you tell the housing officer at the council. You might have to report the problems several times to get them to take any notice. If they do nothing, try to get legal advice. You can get free help from Shelter or you may be able to get free legal advice. 

Or, if the conditions at the place you are in are really bad and you don’t mind moving, you could ask the council to review how suitable the place is for you and any family members on the basis that it is not healthy or safe for you to live in.

Other requirements

Depending on where you are housed, there may be particular requirements you need to stick to, for example about overnight visitors and pets. It is important to check what your licence or tenancy agreement says so that you don’t accidently do something that could mean you are evicted.

Eviction from temporary accommodation

It is essential you do all you can to avoid being evicted from temporary accommodation. This is because if the council decides you have done something yourself to cause this, they no longer have to help you at all. This is often called ‘making yourself intentionally homeless’.

Next, we list problems that can cause you to be evicted from temporary accommodation.  

  • If you do not pay your rent, or other costs such as a service charge, your landlord can evict you.
  • If you decide not to stay in the property and live somewhere else the council can evict you. So, even if the accommodation is really bad it is important to stay and try and fight to get it sorted out rather than move somewhere like a family member’s spare room or sofa-surf. 
  • If you don’t stick to the conditions of the licence or tenancy agreement, your landlord may evict you.

If you refuse the council’s final offer of longer-term housing, you are no longer entitled to temporary accommodation, but you don’t have longer term accommodation either! It is better to accept it and then challenge it soon after, if you don’t think it is suitable.

After temporary accommodation
After some months or even years in temporary accommodation the council should give you a final offer of longer-term accommodation. This offer should be in writing.

The accommodation must be either:

  • a tenancy in a private rented property of at least 12 months, or,
  • a social housing tenancy with the council or a housing association.

If you don’t think the place you are offered is suitable, it is best to accept it anyway and ask for a review of the council's decision. That way, you avoid any risk of the council deciding you have made yourself intentionally homeless by refusing the place.

About this guide


The information in this resource applied to the law in England. Some laws on housing and homelessness are different in Wales. The laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also different.


September 2023

This resource was funded as part of the Better Temporary Accommodation for London initiative at Trust for London, in partnership with Oak Foundation.

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