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Homelessness duties - understanding and implementing the legislation
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Homelessness Prevention

Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, as amended by the Homelessness Act 2002, sets out the duties owed by local housing authorities to someone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Although prevention of homeless is a key government policy, the Act makes very little mention of it. Local housing authorities do need to be aware that the Act imposes statutory obligations and an authority cannot choose to disregard these because of a policy on homelessness prevention. Good homelessness prevention achieves a positive outcome for people who are at risk of homelessness whilst operating within the statutory framework.

Tests and duties

The Act defines a homeless application as occurring where a person applies to a local housing authority for accommodation, or for assistance in obtaining accommodation, and the authority has reason to believe that they are, or may be, homeless or threatened with homelessness.

This triggers a duty to carry out inquiries into five separate issues:

The first two questions to be asked are:

  • Is the applicant homeless?


  • Is the applicant eligible for assistance?

 If the applicant is not homeless, or threatened with homelessness within 28 days, there is no duty to assist.

 If the applicant is homeless but is not eligible for assistance the only duty is to provide advice, unless there is a child under the age of 18 in the household, in which case the housing authority must ask permission of the applicant to refer details of their case to social services.

 If the applicant is homeless and eligible for assistance, the local housing authority must ask further questions to determine what duty is owed:

  •  Does the applicant have a priority need for housing?

 If the applicant does not have a priority need, the local housing authority owe a duty to provide advice and assistance in securing accommodation. There is also a discretionary power to provide accommodation for those who do not have a priority need.

 If the applicant does have a priority need, the next question is:

  •  Has the applicant made him or herself intentionally homeless? (Or are they threatened with homelessness intentionally?)

 Where an applicant has a priority need but is threatened with homelessness intentionally the local housing authority should provide advice and assistance and, if homelessness occurs, provide a period of temporary accommodation.

 If the applicant is eligible and homeless, does have a priority need and has not made him or herself intentionally homeless, he or she will be owed the full housing duty under Section 193 of the Act. Under this section the local housing authority must secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant, until that duty is brought to an end by one of the events specified.

 The next question is:

  •  Does the applicant have a local connection with the authority he or she has applied to?

 If the applicant does have a local connection, the authority to which he or she has applied owes him or her the housing duty. If there is no local connection, he or she can be referred back to a housing authority where they do have a connection, provided that they would not be at risk of domestic or other violence upon return to that district. Where an applicant has no local connection with any authority, the one that they have applied to owes the housing duty.

Once inquiries have been completed and a decision made, the applicant must be given written notification of that decision.

Housing Duties

If the applicant is owed a full housing duty under HA 1996 Part VII the local authority is under a duty to secure that suitable accommodation is made available to the applicant. This is not a duty to grant a secure tenancy or make a nomination to a Registered Social Landlord. Any subsequent permanent allocation of accommodation by a local housing authority must be by way of its allocation scheme under Part VI of the Housing Act 1996.

The authority will often be required to provide interim accommodation under section 188 of the Act pending a decision on the application. This duty arises when the authority is given reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless, eligible and in priority need.

There is also a duty to provide temporary accommodation to those who are intentionally homeless and in priority need for a reasonable period to give them the opportunity to secure accommodation.

Contracting Out

The local housing authority is entitled to contract our functions under Part VII of the Housing Act, this is most often (but not exclusively) encountered where a local authority has transferred its stock to a housing association. In these circumstances the legal duties still lie with the local authority, not the agency to which they have been contracted.

Code of Guidance

In addition to the legislation, a Code of Guidance is issued by the Secretary of State in England and by the National Assembly for Wales, which is designed to assist authorities in the discharge of their duties. The Code of Guidance is not legally binding, but it is intended to reflect the law at the time of publication and the Act requires that authorities must have regard to the Code of Guidance when exercising functions under the Act. It is possible for an authority to deviate from the guidance in the Code of Guidance (England), provided that such deviation is lawful, is reasonable and has been justified. There are a number of points where the caselaw conflicts with the Code of Guidance: where that occurs, the caselaw will take precedence. The Act also requires that Social Services should have regard to the guidance in the exercise of any functions relating to homelessness or the prevention of homelessness.

The Code of Guidance also has direct relevance for housing associations. The 1996 Act requires that Registered Social Landlords must co-operate with housing authorities to such an extent as is reasonable.

Contractors who have taken over the allocations and homelessness functions from the authority must also have regard to the Code of Guidance.

In England the Code is the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, a new Code of Guidance was published by the Department of COmmunities and Local Government in July 2006 and took effect on 4 September 2006.

In Wales the Code is the Code of Guidance for local authorities on Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness.  


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