Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Social Care and Support Icon

Severe weather emergency protocol for rough sleepers

The severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) aims to get rough sleepers off the streets during the winter months, and especially during severe weather, by providing emergency accommodation for people who may not otherwise be eligible.

What is severe weather?

There is no strict definition of what is considered to be ‘severe weather’. A common sense and flexible approach should be adopted in determining when the protocol is operational. Weather conditions that can trigger the activation include, but are not limited to:

  • severe cold
  • excessive and/or prolonged rain
  • extreme wind and associated wind chill factor
  • snow, frost, ice and associated chill factor


Extreme cold can cause serious health problems and death for those who are exposed to it overnight or for long periods of time. Historically SWEP provision has been activated when the temperature has been forecast to be zero degrees or below for three days. An occasional night above zero degrees in a series of sub-zero degree nights should not deactivate the SWEP.


High winds can be problematic and can lead to increased injury through falling walls, roofing, and debris from buildings or walls that people may be sheltering in or against.


Excessive or prolonged rain can lead to flooding, so those sleeping near the river, drains, or under bridges are at an increased risk. Lengthy exposure to extreme rain can result in health problems and the loss of belongings.

Is there a duty to have a SWEP?

Housing authorities are required to ensure there is provision in place for rough sleepers during periods of extreme cold weather to prevent people dying on the streets, and to make sure that every effort is made to engage individuals with support services during the winter months.

Who are classed as rough sleepers?

The definition of rough sleepers is:

  • people sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding), or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the street, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters, or encampments)
  • people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or 'bashes')

Who else can access accommodation through the SWEP?

The SWEP operates outside usual eligibility and entitlement frameworks that govern access to housing.

When the SWEP is in operation, housing is accessible to everyone, including all those who may otherwise be excluded from services: people with no recourse to public funds, people who may have previously been banned, and people with no local connection.

When does the SWEP come into operation?

The SWEP should be activated when the actual temperature is forecast to drop to zero degrees or below for three consecutive nights. This should be from the first night of the forecast. The three night guideline is an attempt to define ‘severe weather’ only and is the minimum requirement. Flexibility is crucial and consideration must be given to the factors above regarding sever weather, as these may override the actual temperature.

Who keeps a check on the temperature?

The Homeless and Housing Advice Team at Thirteen Housing Group are responsible for checking the forecast every day before 10am.

Where will rough sleepers be taken to sleep?

Rough sleepers will be placed in emergency accommodation for the period of the severe weather or until they have found suitable alternative accommodation, whichever is sooner.

Does this apply to all rough sleepers?

No. There are exceptions: if someone is considered too high risk to place in emergency accommodation for example, on the advice of police, probation or mental health services, or when an individual is aggressive, violent, or threatening violence. In such circumstances, this will be discussed with the Homeless and Housing Advice Team Leader and clearly recorded.

What happens if someone doesn't want emergency accommodation?

When a person refuses emergency accommodation this will also be recorded. In all cases, advice and assistance will be offered, with the aim of facilitating a longer term outcome for the individual concerned.

Will the number of rough sleepers given accommodation be monitored?

Together with Thirteen Group’s Homeless and Housing Advice Team we will monitor the number of rough sleepers accommodated under the SWEP, the cost of provision, and the actions and outcomes.

How often will the SWEP be reviewed?

The SWEP will be reviewed annually. ​Read the SWEP for 2019-20.


Anyone wishing to access accommodation through the SWEP can contact:

  • Contact: Homeless and Housing Advice Team
  • Email:
  • Telephone: 0300 111 1000
  • Address: Rivers House, 63 North Ormesby Road, Middlesbrough, TS4 2AF