General Legal Advice Clinic

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017: Now in force

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017

On the 3rd April 2018 the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force. The act, a reaction to the rise in homelessness over the past ten years, has a strong emphasis on prevention, with local housing authorities now having a statutory obligation to take action to assist in situations where homelessness is a threat at a much earlier stage than was previously required.

In a previous blog we discussed the reasoning behind the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act. In this article, with the act now in force, we look at the effect that it has in more detail.

Prior to the new act

To recap, prior to the 3rd April 2018 the duty of the local housing authority was that;

  • Action was taken if person/s were going to be made homeless in the next 28 days and;
    • They were eligible for assistance (in priority need)
    • If being made unintentionally homeless
    • Had a local connection

In these cases the local housing authority would find longer term housing for that person/s.

The issue with this approach was that the local housing authorities were waiting until crisis point to assist those in need which placed pressure on all parties. Further, it meant that single homeless people, not considered in priority need, were afforded limited assistance.

The new act

The act provides for three main duties;

  1. Prevention duty

This is a duty in cases of threatened homelessness:

The local housing authority must take reasonable steps to help an eligible applicant who is threatened with homelessness in the next 56 days to secure that they have accommodation available.

The local housing authority to have a duty to assess the situation and provide the applicant with a personalised housing plan. They duty ends:

  • If the help works
  • After 56 days (except in cases of s.21 notice)
  • If the applicant becomes homeless
  • If the applicant deliberately and unreasonably refuses to cooperate
  1. Relief duty

 This is a duty owed to those who are homeless:

The local housing authority have a duty to take reasonable steps to help all eligible applicants that are homeless to secure suitable accommodation.

The local housing  authority have a duty to assess the situation and provide the applicant with a personalised housing plan. The duty ends:

  • If the help works
  • After 56 days
  • If applicant deliberately and unreasonably refuses to cooperate
  • If applicant refuses a suitable offer of accommodation
  1. Original rehousing duty

The existing duty to those who are homeless and in priority need continues as previously:

The local housing have a duty to rehouse an applicant who is homeless, eligible for assistance, and has a priority need, and where they are satisfied that the applicant is not intentionally homeless.

Unless they have;

  • Deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate (although they are still entitled to a ‘final offer’ of a 6 month private tenancy)
  • Refused a final offer of suitable accommodation at relief stage

Ends with offer of suitable settled accommodation:

(i) minimum 12 month approved `private rented sector offer’ or

(ii) offer of social housing.

Comment

The new act has some promising elements. Crucially “all eligible applicants” as discussed above is based on immigration status, NOT on priority need and intentionality, effectively widening the criteria of those who may receive local authority assistance. Those groups who were previous ineligible for help, for example rough sleepers and single people, will now have the opportunity to have their housing needs assessed and have a personalised housing plan. This does not guarantee those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless accommodation but does provide them with assistance with their situation.

The increase of time in which eligible applicants may seek assistance, from 21 days to 56 days under the new act is also a positive step and you would hope that it should improve the local housing authorities’ ability to plan a proactive, rather than a reactive strategy to those threatened with homelessness.

Although the definition of homelessness, found in Section 175 (1) Housing Act 1996 remains unchanged, statutory guidance in relation to those tenants that find themselves in receipt of a Section 21 notice (a “no fault” eviction notice pursuant to the Housing Act 1988) has been made more robust. This is to clarify at what point a person should be considered homeless because it is no longer reasonable for them to occupy their accommodation. It is hoped that this will prevent the current practice of local housing authorities advising tenants to remain in their home until there is a warrant for possession being executed by bailiffs. There has been some scepticism as to whether this practice will actually change, and in particular Shelter state in their policy and practice briefing on the subject that;

“We support the slightly strengthened guidance but if housing authorities continue to flout it, and advise families to wait for court possession and eviction, we’ll campaign for statutory regulations on whether it is reasonable to occupy beyond the service of a valid s.21 notice”

Although it is too soon at this stage to see what impact the act will have on homelessness, it should be seen as a positive step towards reducing the current increasing numbers of those that find themselves homeless.

Gemma Hargrave

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