General Legal Advice Clinic

Homelessness: the gone, forgotten and the invisible

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On the 14th June 2017 a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. 151 homes in Grenfell Tower and the neighbouring Grenfell Walk were lost to the fire and residents of those two buildings were made homeless.

As of the 5th September 2017, 196 households of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk had been identified as needing a new home. To this day surviving residents from this tragic event are still without homes.

With such a grand scale catastrophe in our capital the magnifying glass of the media has been looking into many issues surrounding the Grenfell Tower, one of which is homelessness. Media scrutiny forces our Government to react and in April that reaction will be visible.

The Homelessness Reduction Act is due to receive royal assent in April 2018.  This new law will alter and extend protection to the homeless and those threatened with homelessness in a variety of ways:

  1. Improved advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness
  2. Extension of the period ‘threatened with homelessness’
  3. Introducing new duties to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible people, regardless of priority need and intentionality
  4. Introducing assessments and personalised housing plans, setting out the action housing authorities and individuals will take to secure accommodation
  5. Encouraging public bodies to work together to prevent and relieve homelessness through a duty to refer.

The new law will give everyone in a local housing authority’s area access to free information and advice on: preventing homelessness, securing accommodation when homeless, the rights of the homeless, the duties of the authority, help that’s available from the authority and how to access that help.

The current law states that an individual may only be deemed as threatened with homelessness if they are likely to become homeless within 28 days. The new law will extend this to 56 days. The local authority must also take action as soon as someone is served with a valid Section 21 notice seeking possession of a rental property. By providing help at the start of the two month notice period, the local authority are given the best chance to avoid homelessness in their area.

The new law will see all eligible people who are found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness entitled to more tailored support from the local authority, regardless of priority need and intention. All people found to be homeless who are in priority need will be provided with interim accommodation.

You will be deemed under priority need if you fall into one of the categories listed below:

  • You are pregnant, or someone you live with or might be expected to live with is pregnant
  • You have dependent children who normally live with you or who might be expected to live with you
  • You are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, because of an emergency, for example, a fire or flood
  • You are aged 16 or 17 and aren’t owed certain duties by social services under the Children Act 1989
  • You are aged under 21 and not a student in full time education, but at any time when aged between 16 and 18 you were looked after, accommodated or fostered under the Children Act 1989
  • You, or someone you live with or might be expected to live with, are vulnerable because of old age, mental illness or disability, physical disability or some other special reason
  • You are vulnerable because of your service in the armed forces
  • You are vulnerable because you have been in custody or prison
  • You are vulnerable because you became homeless because of violence, or a threat of violence.

Assessments will be conducted by the local authority with all eligible applicants and develop with them a personalised housing plan at first approach. Also known at the ‘homelessness relief duty’, the local authority will have a duty to relieve a person’s risk of homelessness by making referrals to social housing providers; helping with deposits and guarantors; assessing any community care issues and taking other steps to help people find accommodation.

The assessment should include:

  • The circumstances that caused the applicant to become homeless or threated with homelessness
  • What housing the applicant needs, and what accommodation would be suitable, and
  • Whether the applicant needs support to obtain and keep accommodation

The personalised housing plan will set out recommended and mandatory steps that must be carried out by the individual that will aid in remaining in or finding suitable accommodation.

Public bodies in England will have a duty to refer an individual’s case to a housing authority they identify. The duty provides an ‘impetus to develop effective referral arrangements and accommodation pathways that involve appropriate jointly planned help and support to prevent homelessness.’

Between 1st July and 30th September 2017 local authorities accepted 15,290 households as being statutorily homeless, up 6% from 14,390 on the previous quarter and up 2% from 14,930 on the same quarter of last year. These are households that are owed a main homelessness duty to secure accommodation as a result of being unintentionally homeless and in priority need. Statistics on homelessness are very difficult to obtain because many individuals are ‘invisibly homeless’, meaning they don’t sleep rough on the street, but sofa surf between various friends and families. This difficulty with obtaining statistics makes you question how many individuals are homeless in our country, and will this new law actually aid the invisible?

If you have received a Section 21 notice and are concerned about what to do, you can find further guidance here or contact the General Legal Advice Clinic today to book an appointment with one of our student advisers. Telephone us on: 02392 844114 or contact us via email on: advice@port.ac.uk

By Jack Macfarlane, Student Adviser

Jack

 

 

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