What help is available for homeless people sleeping outside in cold weather?

15 December 2017
What was claimed

The government will only open up extra housing for homeless people if the temperature is zero degrees for three days.

Our verdict

A scheme like this exists in England where councils can choose to take emergency measures when the temperature is forecast to be at or below zero degrees Celsius for three days in a row.

“I understand there is a policy [...] where it has to be more than zero degrees centigrade for three days before the Government open up extra housing. Is that accurate?”

Geoff Norcott 14 December 2017

“I think there is a scheme around that, yep. [...] There are also cold weather payments.”

Nicky Morgan, 14 December 2017

The charity Homeless Link, which produces guidance for local councils on helping rough sleepers during severe weather, says there are currently no legal protections for people sleeping rough in England during these conditions.

Local authorities in England have the option to adopt this guidance, which is called the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP). At least 100 councils do so.

In Scotland, the Scottish government have their own plan for tackling winter rough sleeping. We haven’t found specific severe winter weather homelessness plans for Wales and Northern Ireland.  

The SWEP plan in England has historically been triggered when the temperature is forecast to be at or below zero degrees celsius from three days.

However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Both Homeless Link, and some local authorities themselves, say that a common sense approach is taken. The occasional night above zero degrees doesn’t automatically mean that the winter provision will be withdrawn.

A key part of the SWEP is for local authorities to provide winter housing for rough sleepers. A total of 2,793 people used winter housing services across the 118 local authorities that responded to Homeless Link’s 2016/17 survey.

The government does provide a Cold Weather Payment as well for people on certain benefits.

These payments kick in if the temperature in your area is recorded to be, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below for 7 consecutive days. If eligible, you can get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. 

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