What is SWEP?

Our Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) means that local homelessness agencies provide extra beds to people experiencing rough sleeping during severe winter weather.

SWEP is emergency accommodation for anyone - including people who have no right to claim benefits or housing in the UK, or who have previously refused offers of accommodation and support.

SWEP's primary purpose is to provide emergency shelter during severe winter weather.

We activate SWEP on every night when the Met Office forecasts the overnight temperature in Oxford will fall to zero or below.

We can also open emergency beds on a discretionary basis during other severe weather conditions – such as when there is snow on the ground, a sub-zero “feels like” forecast or a warmer night during a prolonged freezing spell.

We activate SWEP in consultation with St Mungo's outreach and assessment service, OxSPOT, and in line with guidance from Homeless Link.

This winter Oxfordshire district councils have agreed to operate SWEP on a countywide basis. However, discretion may be used to activate SWEP on a localised basis in circumstances where there is snow forecast in just one part of the county, or similar.

Activating SWEP

We decide whether to activate or extend SWEP for a particular night or period by 9:30 am on any day when it looks like SWEP needs to open and notify housing providers delivering emergency beds of our decision.

A combination of agency staff and staff in existing settings is used to manage SWEP. Staff in local homelessness organisations step up from their regular duties to deal with emergency conditions – this is on top of their day jobs.

During the day, OxSPOT, district outreach and other local agencies work to ensure that everyone who may need to access SWEP is aware that it is open and understands how they can access the service. OxSPOT will allocate SWEP spaces to people and notify them where and when they need to go that night.

Accessing SWEP

OxSpot engages intensively and on a daily basis with people experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford.

OxSPOT will allocate SWEP rooms to people during the day, giving them a named venue and telling them where and when they need to arrive.

People who have not been allocated a SWEP room in advance can present at O'Hanlon House between 11 pm and midnight.

Until the pandemic, SWEP beds were provided in shared sleeping spaces but we believed it was not possible to do so in a Covid-safe way during the last two years. As a result, people wanting a SWEP bed were given their own room for the night.

This year has seen an increase in the number of people experiencing rough sleeping, together with a loss of 'everyone in' venues like Oxford YHA. This means some shared sleeping spaces will need to be used. Where this occurs it will be undertaken in accordance with government guidelines on running such spaces.

Working with a range of partners, we have secured a minimum of 30-bed spaces across a range of venues in central and east Oxford.

We believe that there are sufficient beds to meet potential demand. Our experience in recent years shows that the number of people taking up space is less than the number of people thought to be experiencing rough sleeping.

Contingency plans are in place to provide more beds if the need arises. 


OxSPOT will allocate SWEP rooms to people in the most appropriate venue, where they have been verified and their needs and behaviours are known.

While everyone is offered a SWEP space, not everyone will accept this and - as a last resort - there are limited circumstances in which a SWEP provider may refuse access to a venue. 

People may be refused access to a SWEP venue if:

  • they present outside hours
  • they do not turn up at the designated venue they have been assigned to
  • on arrival at a venue, it appears that they present or may present a serious risk to others

In the case of people not wanting to use a particular venue, when this is known in advance and there are good reasons for this, OxSPOT will try and match them to other locations. Where people have been banned from one venue, and it is not possible for the person to be readmitted to this location, OxSPOT will try and find space elsewhere. 

Dogs at SWEP venues

One of the SWEP venues is suitable for people with dogs and OxSPOT can also arrange free kennels if necessary. Kennels must be arranged in advance and are not available on the night.

SWEP Timeline

This table sets out what happens and who is responsible for this when Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) beds are activated.

Timeline for Severe Winter Weather Protocol (SWEP) emergency beds
Time Event Who is responsible


Deadline for decision to activate or extend SWEP same day Oxford City Council and St Mungo's, consulting with Homeless Oxfordshire as required
10am Organisations, district council colleagues and the general public are alerted that SWEP will operate that night. We will notify the general public that SWEP beds are available on our social media channels Oxford City Council
During the day Outreach teams contact people on the street to tell them SWEP is opening, confirm their pre-allocated venue and any arrangements for access St Mungo's (Oxford), Connection Support (districts)
During the day The local homelessness network can refer people to OxSPOT if they think an individual will need to access SWEP. If OxSPOT does not already know the person it will ensure their needs are assessed and a SWEP space allocated Network partners
5pm Target time for referrals from network partners. OxSPOT will notify people of the name and location of their allocated SWEP venue when they need to arrive and the terms and conditions of the offered space Network partners
District councils
St Mungo's
9pm to 11pm Access to SWEP venues for people with a pre-allocated space. Admission times will vary depending on the venue. At O'Hanlon House the deadline is 11pm. Rooms may be reallocated if someone does not present

St Mungo's

Homeless Oxfordshire

11pm to midnight People who have not been allocated a SWEP room in advance can present for admission at O'Hanlon House or be referred to other venues if they are at capacity Homeless Oxfordshire
midnight Deadline for admission at O'Hanlon House. Admissions after midnight will be at the discretion of Homeless Oxfordshire and in line with SWEP procedures Homeless Oxfordshire
7am next day People who have stayed overnight start to leave SWEP venues  

Rate this page