Case Management Guidebook

Comprehensive guidance and support to professionals working in homeless and drug services

Definition of Homelessness

 The legal definition of homelessness


Section 2 of the Housing Act, 1988 states that a person should be considered to be homeless if:

(a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of,

(b) he is living a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), and
(c) he cannot provide accommodation from his own resources.
While the 1988 Act does not impose a duty on housing authorities to provide housing to people who are homeless, it does clearly give responsibility to the local authorities to consider their needs and expand their powers to respond to those needs. Specifically authorities may house homeless people from their own housing stock or through arrangement with a voluntary body. The Act also enables the local authority to provide a homeless person with money to source accommodation in the private sector.


In addition to the provisions relating to direct responses to people presenting as homeless, Section 10 of the Act enables local authorities to provide funding to voluntary bodies for the provision of emergency accommodation and long term housing for people who are homeless.


The 1988 Act requires that local authorities carry out periodic assessments of the number of people who are homeless in their administrative area, as part of their housing needs assessment. The first assessment was carried out in 1989 with follow up assessments in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008 and most recently 2011 (in partnership with the CSO).


Other legislation related to homelessness


The other main legislation that deals with homelessness in Ireland includes the Health Act 1953 and the Child Care Act 1991.In practice, what does the legal definition mean?


In practice, the legal definition translates into four types of homelessness.


The visibly homeless are people who are:

  • living rough, or
  • sleeping in designated emergency accommodation such as a hostel

The hidden homeless are people who are:

  • staying with relatives or friends because there is no alternative accommodation for them, or
  • remaining in institutional care because there is no affordable accommodation for them


People at risk of homelessness have housing but are likely to become homeless through:

  • economic difficulties, or
  • the threat of violence


People rough sleeping are:

  • not in contact with emergency services, and
  • not staying in emergency accommodation


Other definitions of homelessness


The European Observatory on Homelessness operating with FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) has a more detailed definition of homelessness.


2 The use of the male gender was standard for government documents at this time. More recent documents all use the gender-neutral pronouns.