Homelessness Reduction Act
Changes to the way local authorities help those at risk of homelessness or those already homeless.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament on the 27th April 2017. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 places new legal duties on English councils so that everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness has access to meaningful help, irrespective of their priority need status, as long as they are eligible for assistance.
The Act amends part VII of the Housing Act 1996 and took effect from April 2018
Definition of homelessness / threatened homelessness
Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002, sets out the duties owed by English local housing authorities (LAs) to someone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness.
Section 175 of the 1996 Act defines that a person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that they will become homeless within 28 days.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 extends the number of days from 28 to 56. In addition, people who have received a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and the expiry date is within 56 days, will be treated as being threatened with homelessness.
Duty to provide advisory services
Currently, section 179 of the 1996 Act places a general duty on English LAs to ensure that advice and information about homelessness, and preventing homelessness, is available free of charge to everyone in their district. Under the 2017 Act, LAs are required to provide or secure the provision of free services to give people in their area information and advice on:
- preventing homelessness
- securing accommodation if homeless
- the rights of people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, and
- any help that is available for people who are homeless or likely to become homeless as well as how to access that help.
LAs are required to ensure services are designed to meet the needs of particular groups that are at increased risk of becoming homeless including (but not limited to); care leavers, people leaving prison, people who have left the regular armed forces, victims of domestic abuse, people leaving hospital and people suffering from a mental illness or impairment.
Previously, LAs in England were required to make inquiries to establish what duty, if any, was owed to someone seeking homelessness assistance. As part of LAs’ investigations, they must determine if an applicant has a ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance. Categories of priority need are set out in section 189 of the 1996 Act, and are extended by the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England Order) 2002.
Those who are found to be in priority need and unintentionally homeless are owed what is referred to as the ‘full housing duty’ meaning LAs are obliged to secure that suitable accommodation is made available for them. However, non-priority need households, which are most likely to be single people without children, or childless couples, are owed the ‘advice and assistance’ duty only.
The 2017 Act places a legal obligation on LAs to assess and provide more meaningful assistance to all people who are eligible and homeless or threatened with homelessness, irrespective of their priority need status.
Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan
The first step in the amended framework is for LAs, once they are satisfied someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness and also eligible for assistance, to carry out an assessment of the applicant’s case. These assessments should include the circumstances that have caused homelessness and the housing and support needs of the applicant and their household. LAs must aim to reach an agreement with applicants on a personalised ‘Action Plan’ which must be recorded and will set out the steps the applicant and the authority are required to take to ensure accommodation is secured and/or retained. Applicants’ assessments and agreements must be kept under constant review until the LA has determined that no other duty is owed to the applicant under part VII of the 1996 Act.
The relief duty: In cases where the applicant is homeless
Under this clause, LAs must take ‘reasonable steps’ – with reference to the applicant’s assessment – to help all homeless eligible applicants to secure accommodation for at least six months unless the applicant is referred to another local authority due to having no local connection to the authority they have applied to. Once triggered, the relief duty would continue for 56 days unless it is brought to an end via one of the prescribed conditions. Applicants will have a right to request a review of a decision to end this duty.
Interim accommodation duties owed to people under the existing provisions (section 188) continue to apply during this stage – the duty to provide accommodation to people who the LA have reason to believe may be homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need - pending a decision on whether the council is obliged to provide some form of longer term settled accommodation.
If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness please contact us as soon as possible.