Helping someone who is homeless access healthcare

With many people sleeping rough, here's how health and care services can help those facing homelessness get the support they need.
woman in the street

Tonight, thousands of people will sleep rough on the streets of England.

Experiencing homelessness can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health, so it’s important that people are able to access support.

How can health and social care professionals help?

People who have faced homelessness have told their local Healthwatch that they can experience problems accessing services. If you work for an NHS or social care service, there are several steps you and your colleagues can take to help.

Enable people to register with their GP

People have told us that they have not been able to register with an NHS general practice because they don't have ID or a permanent address.

I was living in a tent and I needed ID proof of address, they wouldn’t let me register without.
— Personal story Healthwatch Croydon

If you work in a GP surgery, you can help by making colleagues aware of people’s rights.

NHS guidelines say that GP services cannot refuse to register someone because they are homeless, do not have proof of address or identification, or because of their immigration status.

GP surgeries can only refuse to register someone if they are already full or if the person is living outside the practice area – and they must explain this in writing.

The NHS has produced a leaflet that explains how to register with a GP and people's rights.

Download the leaflet 

The legal duty to refer

Since October 2018, NHS accident and emergency services, urgent treatment centres and in-patient services have had a legal duty refer patients they consider may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to a local housing authority.

A referral, which must have the consent of a patient, then enables the relevant local authority housing authority to get in contact with the person concerned and undertake an assessment of their needs.

The Government have produced a guide to help services understand more about:

  • what the duty to refer is
  • how to identify when someone is threatened with homelessness, and
  • what the procedures are for referring someone to a local authority.

Read the guide

Directing people to wider support

The support available in England to people who are homeless will depend on several factors but you can help people by directing them to your council housing service and local homeless services.

Search for local  services

Connecting rough sleepers to local services

Streetlink is a service that helps to connect people sleeping rough to local services. 

They can be contacted either by people sleeping rough or by anyone who is concerned on their behalf.

0300 500 0914

Make sure your service has the knowledge you need

Health and care services across England have done work to improve the support they provide to those facing homelessness.

The first step you can take is to talk to your homeless service about any training or materials they can provide. You can also talk to your local Healthwatch to find out about what local people have told them.

There are also several free resources available on the internet that could help.

The Healthy London Partnership has produced a resource pack designed to educate NHS staff and signpost to a range of resources that can support their work with people who are homeless.

Download the resource pack

Do health and social care services know what you really think?

Share your ideas and experiences and help services hear what works, what doesn’t, and what you want from care in the future. 

Speak to your local Healthwatch