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National Homeless Advice Service

Priority need

A local authority’s housing department must investigate the circumstances of a young person who makes a homeless application and ascertain if the applicant is in priority need.

The following categories of homeless people have a priority need for accommodation:

  • pregnant women, or anyone with whom a pregnant woman is reasonably expected to reside
  • people who have dependent children reasonably expected to reside with them
  • people vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, and anyone reasonably expected to reside with them
  • people who have lost their home as a result of fire, flood, or other disaster
  • young people aged 16 or 17 years old who are not relevant children or children in need to whom social services owe a duty to provide accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989
  • care leavers aged 18, 19, or 20 years old who have been in care at some point after their 16th birthday, unless they are ‘relevant students’
  • care leavers aged 21 years old or older who are vulnerable as a result of having been looked after, accommodated or fostered, unless they are a ‘relevant student’
  • people vulnerable as a result of having been a member of Her Majesty’s regular naval, military or air forces
  • people vulnerable as a result of having served a custodial sentence or been remanded in custody
  • people vulnerable as a result of having lost accommodation due to violence or threat of violence.

‘Relevant students’ are care leavers under the age of 25 in full-time further or higher education whose term-time accommodation is not available during vacation.

The definitions of care leavers aged 18 to 21 above include young people who have not been in care but have lived for a continuous minimum period of three months in either residential education accommodation paid for by the local education authority, or in residential rehabilitation accommodation paid by the NHS, or have been privately fostered.

In the case of a 16 and 17 year old, if there is any doubt as to whether they may be a ‘relevant child’ or ‘child in need’, the authority should provide interim accommodation pending clarification.

See Shelter Legal: Priority need for more information; see also Shelter Legal: Vulnerable people for how vulnerability is defined and factors that will be relevant to establishing vulnerability for a young homeless client.