Relevant Legislation: Housing Act 1996, Homelessness Act 2002, Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002, Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA) and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
Under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 you will find the primary homelessness legislation which highlights the statutory action required to prevent homelessness and provide assistance to those who are at risk of being homeless or actually homeless.
People at risk of homelessness and potential homelessness are defined as “a person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation”, in other words homelessness is the absence of a stable and appropriate house. It may include people:
- Living on the streets;
- Moving between temporary accommodation/shelters;
- Moving between friends and family homes; or
- Living in private boarding houses without a private bathroom or security of tenure.
A person may also be homeless if he has accommodation but is unable to secure entry to it or if it is a moveable structure or vehicle in which there is no place for it or to reside in it (for example a trailer home).
A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely they will be homeless within 56 days or if they have received a valid section 21 notice and that notice will expire within 56 days. Although section 8 notices are no longer included, an applicant who is eligible and at risk of being homeless within 56 days will still be offered help through their local authority,
In 2002, the homelessness legislation was amended under the Homelessness Act 2002 and the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 in order to ensure a strategic approach to tackling and preventing homelessness. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 reformed the legislation by placing duties on local authorities to intervene at an early stage to prevent homelessness rising in their area.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 provides a new definition of domestic abuse which housing authorities must follow when assessing whether an applicant is homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 amends Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 to provide support to victims of domestic abuse.
The government is taking preventative measures to ensure the most vulnerable groups of society are protected. Early intervention ensures those at risk are encouraged to reach out for help.
Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is the first major piece of legislation which aims to reduce homelessness in the last 19 years. Local authorities are tasked with preventing homelessness and assisting those at risk of homelessness. Key features and new duties of this act include:
- Extending the period in which someones is considered to be threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days.
- A duty to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants, regardless of priority need.
- A duty to relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants, regardless of priority need. This could be debt advice or financial assistance.
- A duty on public bodies to notify local authorities if they believe someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness.
The homeless code of guidance for local authorities was published by the Gov.uk on 22 February 2018 (updated on 12 October 2021) and can be found here.
Recent updates include:
- Local housing authorities should consider applicants suffering with COVID-19 and the vulnerability of those that have an underlying condition.
- Guidance on the provisions relating to an applicant’s eligibility for homelessness services has been updated:
- Persons subject to immigration control are generally not eligible for housing assistance. However by virtue of regulation 5 of the Eligibility Regulations certain individuals who are subject to immigration control are eligible for housing assistance (click here to see clause 7.14 for more information).
- Certain foreign individuals are not subject to the requirements of being habitually resident in the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland. These individuals will be eligible for assistance even if they are not a habitual resident. (click here to see clause 7.18 for more information).
- The guidance for managing applications for homelessness assistance from EEA citizens from 1 July 2021 has been updated, click here to see clause 7.34 for more information.
Below is an overview of the homeless code of guidance for local authorities.
1. Strategy and Review
All local housing authorities are required to have a homelessness strategy for their district which is to be renewed every 5 years and where required social services authorities must provide assistance. The strategy must include how the authority aims to prevent homelessness and to ensure sufficient accommodation and support is available for those that are or are at risk of homelessness.
2. Duty to Refer
Public authorities must refer individuals who they think may be homeless or at risk of homelessness to the local housing authority. In order to do so, the individual must give consent and confirm the authority this wish to be referred to. In order to meet this requirement housing authorities need to establish and facilitate good working relationships with public authorities and agencies.
3. Duty to Provide Advisory Services
Local housing authorities must provide advice and relevant information about homelessness, preventative steps and the rights of those at risk of homelessness.
4. Applications and Inquiries
All applicants must be given proper consideration for housing assistance. In order to determine the appropriate course of action the local housing authority must first determine whether the individual is eligible for assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and is threatened with or is actually homeless.
5. Personalised Housing Plans
An individual who is eligible for housing assistance will be given a personalised housing place. The local housing authority must identify what caused the threatened or actual homelessness, what support is required to secure housing and what the individuals housing needs are.
6. Prevention Duty
Local housing authorities must take reasonable steps to prevent those at risk of homelessness becoming homeless. This may mean helping them stay in their current accommodation or finding a new accommodation to live in before they become homeless. The prevention of homelessness duty continues for 56 days unless it is brought to an end by the individual securing accommodation or becoming homeless.
7. Relief Duty
Where an individual is already homeless or becomes homeless despite attempts to retain accommodation in the prevention duty stage, the focus will be on helping the individual secure accommodation. Where an individual has a priority need the local housing authority will help provide interim accommodation.
8. Main Housing Duty
Where homelessness is not prevented, the local housing authority will owe the “main housing duty” to those who are eligible, have a priority need and are not intentionally homeless. The authority must ensure suitable accommodation is available for the individual until the main housing duty comes to an end by way of securing a home, the individual declining accommodation or because they are no longer eligible.
Priority need individuals include:
- Pregnant women
- Families with children
- Victims of domestic abuse
- Emergency victims (floors/fire)
- Old age
- Physical/Mental disability
9. Suitable Accommodation
There are a number of standards the authorities must meet for households that have a priority need. For example, a bed and breakfast is not a suitable accommodation for families with children and households that include pregnant women, unless there is no other accommodation and where the stay will be for no longer than 6 weeks.
10. Intentional Homelessness
Where an individual is homeless due to a deliberate act or failure to act they will be considered intentionally homeless. This might be due to not paying rent or leaving a suitable accommodation without reason. Those who are intentionally homeless but have a priority need will be given assistance to find accommodation for themselves.
11. Local Connection and Referrals to Another Authority
Individuals may be referred to other districts where they have a connection for example due to employment or family associations within a district. Applicants cannot be referred where they would be at risk of abuse.
12. Reviews and Appeals
Local housing authorities must provide their decisions in writing to the individual, providing a reason for any decision made against the individual’s interests. If an individual is dissatisfied they may appeal to the county court on a point of law.
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Supporting the Homelessness Reduction Act
In a recent press release it was stated £316 million government funding will be used to tackle homelessness, otherwise known as “The Homelessness Prevention Grant”. It will be used to support households in England who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
The funding will be used by councils to help people find a new home, assistance with evictions or moving to temporary accommodation. The funding includes £5.8 million for those who have been forced into homelessness as a result of domestic abuse.
This funding is on top of the recent £66 million which was announced to help provide rough sleepers with safe and warm accommodation alongside drug and alcohol treatment services. The government has also announced £65 million in support of vulnerable renters who are struggling due to the pandemic. In addition, the government is providing £28 million funding to help rough sleepers to get their COVID-19 vaccines and move into safe accommodation.
Those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness are often victims of complex and distressing circumstances. This funding will enable local authorities to offer people a stronger future through accommodation, support and advice.
Homelessness is a problem private landlords can in certain circumstances help prevent by communicating with their tenants regularly and identifying early warning signs of rent arrears. By making tenants aware of services which can help or by offering a breathing space and a repayment plan, landlords can give tenants an opportunity to better manage their finances and avoid eviction which is beneficial to both the landlord and tenant in the longer term.
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.