Local Authorities currently have statutory duties to those who are homeless, eligible and in priority need.
Prior to 4 April 2018 an applicant also needs to have a local connection to the Local Authority area and not be intentionally homeless before a homelessness duty is triggered.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 imposes new duties on Local Authorities which Housing Associations need to be aware of.
Summary of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
- Comes into effect 3 April 2018, applies to Local Authorities in carrying out their statutory duties under the Housing Act 1996.
- There are no new duties placed on Housing Associations.
- There is no actual duty to accommodate. No material change to Section 184 Housing Act 1996. This still ends where there is no priority need.
- New prevention and relief duties come into effect regardless of priority need or intentionality.
- The new duties have rights to review and appeal of decisions made by the Local Authority.
- A new code of guidance will come into effect.
- The scope of Local Authority advisory services will be extended. Local Authorities must provide a free service to any person in their district providing information and advice on preventing homelessness, securing accommodation when homeless, rights of those homeless/threatened with homelessness and what help is available and how to access it.
There will be a new revised “Prevention Duty”. This applies where an applicant is eligible and threatened with homelessness regardless of priority need or intentionality.
The definition of “threatened with homelessness” is extended to 56 days. This includes where a “valid” Section 21 notice has been served. There is no definition of “valid” in the guidance.
The guidance suggests that the steps taken should be practical, reasonable, tailored to the household and realistic.
The Prevention Duty includes a new requirement to have “assessments and personalised plans” regardless of priority need or intentionality. Local Authorities must make an assessment of the applicant’s case including their housing needs, of what support they need, and the circumstances that caused them to become homeless or threatened with homelessness.
Following assessment the Local Authority must try to agree a plan with the applicant.
The Prevention Duty ends where the Applicant;
- has suitable accommodation for at least 6 months
- becomes homeless
- refuses offer
- is intentionally homeless
- is no longer eligible
- withdraws application
- deliberately and unreasonably fails to co-operate
Or the Local Authority has helped to secure accommodation and 56 days have elapsed since duty arose.
There will be a new “Relief” duty regardless of priority need or intentionality. This applies where an applicant is homeless and eligible.
The duty is to take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that suitable accommodation becomes available for at least 6 months.
The Local Authority must have regard to the assessment and the steps set out in the plan.
The Local Authority may conduct and complete their enquiries into full duty while they are performing the relief duty but must not limit or reduce the relief assistance provided.
The Relief Duty ends automatically for those eligible, homeless and in priority need at the end of 56 days.
Otherwise, it must be ended by serving notice when applicant;
- Secures accommodation for at least 6 months
- Becomes homeless
- Refuses an offer/final offer under Part 6
- Is intentionally homeless
- Is no longer eligible
- Withdraws application
- Deliberately and unreasonably refuses to co-operate
There will be a new duty on Local Authorities to ask applicants if they agree to them notifying a Local Housing Authority.
This is the first major piece of homelessness legislation in 15 years but only places duties on Local Authorities.
Whilst there are no duties on Housing Associations the National Housing Federation has stated that involvement from Housing Associations will continue to be key to housing and supporting those faced with homelessness.
Where a section 21 notice is invalid the new duties will not be triggered but where a notice is validly served the Prevention Duty will be triggered shortly after service.
The Local Authority will become involved at an earlier stage. The Prevention Duty arises 56 days prior to being threatened with homelessness rather than 28. There is no need for a warrant of eviction to be executed before the Local Authority considers an applicant threatened with homelessness.
Measures should be put in place to aim for a consensus to be achieved between the Local Authority and housing providers regarding the transition of persons leaving Housing Association accommodation to seeking assistance from the Local Authority. Ideally Local Authorities will become more proactive in looking at steps to prevent homelessness by engaging with and making representations to landlords before eviction.
For more information, please contact Charlotte Collins in our Housing Management team.