Homelessness – the Homelessness Reduction Act

Aim of this page

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came in to force in England on the 3rd April 2018. This placed a new duty on councils to give very specific advice and information if you are homeless or at risk of being homeless and are experiencing domestic abuse or mental health issues, leaving hospital or leaving care, if you’ve recently left prison or youth detention, or if you have been in the armed forces.

The aim of this page is to set out how the new law works in practice. It is part of our information on housing.

Why is this important?

The Homelessness Reduction Act is one of the biggest changes to the rights of homeless people in England for 15 years and effectively adds two new duties to the original statutory housing duty:

  • Duty to prevent homelessness
  • Duty to relieve homelessness

Statistics show that nearly 2 out of every 5 people in prison will need help in finding a place to live when leaving prison and 3 in 5 say that having a place to live was important in stopping them from re-offending in the future.

The Homelessness Reduction Act will ensure that local authorities must take “all reasonable steps” to prevent homelessness on the proviso that applicants who are either homeless or threatened with the loss of their home “co-operate” with their local council.

What can you expect?

Every person asking a local council for help with housing will be offered a meeting with a housing officer. The council will decide if you’re eligible for help (for example if you’re a British national or have a permanent right to reside in the UK) and, if you are eligible, the council must offer help if you’re:

  • At risk of losing your home, referred to a a prevention duty
  • Already homeless, referred to as a relief duty.

The council have a duty to help you regardless of whether you have a priority need (for example if you have disabilities or dependent children) or if they think you have made yourself intentionally homeless.

If you are homeless, the council may have to provide you with temporary housing. Both the prevention duty and relief duty last for up to 56 days and during this time, the council will work with you to prevent or resolve your homelessness.

Key points of the new law

Some of the key elements of the new law are:

  1. That an individual is classed as ‘threatened with homelessness’ if it is likely that they will become homeless within the next 56 days (this was previously 28 days under the Housing Act 1996).
  2. Local councils have to give everyone who is homeless, or at risk of being homeless, advice and information about homelessness, free of charge.
  3. The council must carry out an assessment in all cases where an eligible applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness. This is regardless of whether there is any priority need or possible intentional homelessness.
  4. Certain public authorities (see below) will have a duty to refer individuals (with the individuals consent) who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to the relevant local authority. These public authorities include:
  • Prisons
  • Young offender institutions
  • Secure training centres
  • Secure colleges
  • Youth offending teams
  • Probation providers (CRC’s and NPS)

Referral from prison/probation and local connection for prison leavers

Every prison, probation provider etc will have the discretion to tailor their referral process to best suit their own situation and resources. For prisons, this is likely to mean putting a system in place to identify that an individual is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless well in advance of their release date. It’s more than likely that assessments will be carried out by a visiting partner agency.

In determining which local authority you will come under, you’ll still need to establish that you have a local connection such as previous residence, employment or family associates within a certain district. Being in prison (whether you’ve been convicted or held on remand) does not establish residency within the area the prison is situated and, as such, does not create a local connection.

Where you meet the criteria for relief duty (you are already homeless) and there is a local connection, the prison will direct you to their local authority. However, where you meet the criteria for relief duty but do not have a local connection to the prison, you will be referred to the local authority where you do have a local connection.

The housing assessment

Once a referral has been made to a local authority, they must carry out an assessment on applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. This is regardless of whether there is any priority need or possible intentional homelessness (for example in the case of people who are being released from prison).

The assessment must include details of:

  1. The circumstances that caused you to become homeless or threatened with homelessness
  2. Your housing needs including, what accommodation would be suitable for you and anybody you reside with or might reasonably be expected to reside; and
  3. What support would be necessary for you and any other relevant person to have, to be able to retain suitable accommodation.

A written copy of the assessment will be given to you and the council will then ‘try’ to agree:

  1. Any steps you are required to take for the purposes of securing and retaining suitable accommodation. For example, you might have to agree to get debt advice if you have rent arrears; and
  2. Any steps the local authority have to take.

When an agreement is reached this will be recorded in writing. If no agreement is reached, the council must set out:

  1. Why they could not agree
  2. Any steps the council consider it would be reasonable to require the applicant to take
  3. The steps the council are to take.

Your case will be kept under continuous review until the local authority determines that they no longer owe a duty. However, you can ask that the decision to end their duty is reviewed.

Your housing plan

It’s important that you follow your housing plan. If you don’t you might not get any further help from the council.

If you can no longer follow your plan or you need the council to change it, you should tell them what you want changed and why. For example your plan may say that you have to widen your property search area but you can’t because you need to live close to family to get help with childcare.

Your housing plan will set out the steps the council will take to either find you somewhere to live or help you keep your home.

If you’re homeless this could include:

  • Helping you to get emergency housing such as a hostel
  • Giving you details of landlords who are willing to accept people on benefits
  • Checking if you can get help with rent costs – for example helping you claim benefits or paying off some of your rent arrears
  • Giving you help to find a private rented home – for example by giving you a deposit or rent in advance.

If you’re going to be homeless this could include:

  • Contacting your landlord to see if an agreement can be reached so you can stay in your home
  • Checking what benefits you’re entitled to so you know how much rent you can afford
  • Giving you help to get a private rented home – for example giving you a deposit or rent in advance.

Deliberately and unreasonably refusing to cooperate

Your personalised housing plan will place certain obligations on you, as well as on the local authority.

If the local authority believes that you have ‘deliberately and unreasonably refused’ to cooperate with the plan they will provide you with a ‘relevant warning’ notice setting out the reasons for the failure and warning of their intention to serve a notice if the steps highlighted aren’t taken. If, after a ‘reasonable period’ the local authority considers that you have still unreasonably refused to take the specified action, they may serve you with a notice to end the duty they have.

In determining whether someone has deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate, decision makers must have regard to your needs and circumstances.

Challenging a homeless application decision

If you disagree with a council’s decision about your homeless application, you can challenge it by asking for a review. You must normally ask for a review within 21 days of getting your decision.

Asking for a review

It’s best to write to your local authority asking them to review their decision. Make sure you keep a copy of your letter for evidence. You’ll need to explain why you think the council’s decision is wrong and provide them with any evidence you have to support your request.

Before you get your review decision

After requesting a review, the council may ask you to meet with a housing officer for more information. Make sure you go to the meeting; it’s your chance to make sure the council fully understands your situation and why you disagree with their decision. It’s worth taking a copy of your evidence with you, so that you can refer back to it. You can take someone with you to take notes or just for support.

Getting your review decision

The council should write to you with their decision within 8 weeks. They should write within 3 weeks if you’re challenging a decision about your housing plan.

If you disagree with the council’s review decision you can also appeal to the county court. You must do this within 21 days of getting the decision.

Complaining about the council

If you remain unhappy with the council’s decision after challenging it, you can complain. Check the council’s website for details on how to make a written complaint.

If the council doesn’t deal with your complaint adequately then you can complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Useful links

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Crisis – Offer help to anybody who is homeless or been homeless in the previous 2 years
  • Shelter – Run a national helpline and provide online advice for people facing a housing crisis
  • Centrepoint – The UK’s leading charity for homeless young people

More information

  1. For practical information – We have more information on housing
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.

 

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