Homelessness Reduction Act
The Homeless Reduction Act came into effect on 1 April 2018, placing new legal duties on English councils so that everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness will have 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.
Five key changes in the Homeless Reduction Act
1. Improved advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness
A review of the previous homeless legislation found that the advice and information provided to single homeless people needed to be much more effective. Under the Homeless Reduction Act, everyone in a local authority's district should be able to access free information and advice on:
- Preventing homelessness
- Securing accommodation when homeless
- The rights of people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness and the duties of the authority
- Any help that is available from the authority other agencies and charities
- How to access that help
Advice and information should be designed to meet the needs of particular groups; for example, care leavers, people suffering with a mental illness or impairment and any other groups as identified as being at risk of homelessness.
2. Extended the period threatened with homelessness
Under the previous legislation, an applicant was only assessed as threatened with homelessness if they were likely to become homeless within 28 days. Under the new legislation this period is extended.
The extension aims to encourage local authorities to act quickly and proactively and allows local authorities more time to prevent homelessness.
3. Duty to assess all eligible applicants' cases and agree a personalised housing plan
The first step in the amended framework for local authorities, once they are satisfied that someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness and is also eligible for assistance, is to carry out an assessment of the applicant's case.
These assessments should include the circumstances that have caused homelessness and what housing the applicant needs, what accommodation would be suitable and whether the applicant and their household need support to obtain and keep accommodation.
4. Prevention duty in cases of threatened with homelessness
If a local authority is satisfied someone is threatened with homelessness and is eligible regardless of local connection, it must take reasonable steps with regards to the assessment to help them avoid becoming homeless.
Once triggered, the prevention duty will continue for 56 days until it is brought to an end via one of the prescribed conditions i.e. they accept accommodation that has reasonable prospect of being available for at least six months.
Applicants have a right to request a review of a decision to end this duty.
5. Relief duty in cases where the applicant is homeless
Under this clause the local authority must take reasonable steps with reference to the applicant's assessment to help all 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 local authority they have applied to.
Once triggered, the relief duty will continue for a further 56 days unless it is brought to an end via one of the prescribed conditions.
Additionally, all people who are found to be homeless and in priority need will be provided interim accommodation. Assessments on vulnerability to determine priority need will not change under the new legislation; however, it may require local authorities working closely with agencies to complete these assessments.
Applicants who have a priority need and were homeless unintentionally, and whose homelessness has not been successfully relieved after 56 days, will be owed the main housing duty unless they refuse to co-operate.
Applicants are owed a lesser accommodation duty if they are intentionally homeless.
Public bodies - Duty to Refer
The 'Duty to Refer' came into effect in October 2018, requiring public bodies to work together to deliver effective prevention and relief of homelessness.
Where a public body considers that someone they are working with is or may be threatened with homelessness, they must, and only with the person's consent, refer to the local authority homeless team.