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Homelessness Reduction Act passes in England

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 received Royal Assent in England & Wales on 27th April. Our Policy & Public Affairs Officer, Stephen Orme, takes a look at the key elements of the Act, and other recent progressions in homeless law.

“Prevention” has been the key word in the area of homelessness in recent years – whether in the context of the abolition of Priority Need in Scotland, the introduction of homelessness prevention duties in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and the Housing Executive’s draft Homelessness Strategy.

The latest step in this direction has been a Private Member’s Bill in England, which has just received Royal Assent. The Bill was introduced by Bob Blackman MP, following an independent review of duties owed to homeless people.

Homelessness in England

Homelessness in England is rising. In 2016, 59,260 households were accepted as statutorily homeless – this is an increase of 40% since the start of the decade. In a context of increasing homelessness, local authorities inevitably focus on their statutory duties. These tend to focus on households who meet the threshold of “statutory” homelessness, to the expense of others, who may not be granted “Priority Need” status.

The Homelessness Reduction Act aims to expand the duties of local authorities, requiring them to work on preventing homelessness for all homeless households.

Prevention and the Homelessness Reduction Act

The Homelessness Reduction Bill was introduced in June 2016 by Bob Blackman MP, following an independent panel review of homelessness legislation in England; in October 2016, the Government announced they would be supporting the Bill. The Bill amended the Housing Act 1996, and the Homelessness Order 2012, to create new homelessness prevention and support duties for councils in England.

The main steps from Homelessness Reduction Act relating to prevention are as follows:

Window for defining "threatened with homelessness" is extended

Clause 1 extends the window in which someone is defined as “threatened with homelessness” from 28 to 56 days; this means councils will be required to try to prevent homelessness within a larger period. The same change was made in Wales in 2014.

Ensure free information and advice on homelessness

Clause 2 requires local authorities to ensure provision of free information and advice on preventing and relieving homelessness, and households’ rights, to all persons. These services must be designed with specific vulnerable groups in mind, including prisoners on release, victims of domestic abuse, and persons suffering from mental illness or impairment.

No requirement for Priority Need or local connection

Clause 3 required that where an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness, and eligible for assistance,  then the council must carry out an assessment into the causes of the homelessness and the applicant’s housing and support needs. There is no requirement for the applicant to have Priority Need or a local connection

Similar duties were introduced to Scotland between 2010 and 2012, whereby if a local authority thinks an applicant may have need for “housing support services”, they must carry out an assessment of these needs, and provide for any needs that are found. “Housing support services” in Scotland are broadly defined as services relating to settling into a new tenancy; tenancy rights and disputes; benefits, debt and budgeting; and engaging with other relevant agencies.

Notify the relevant council

Clause 10 places a duty on all public authorities - where they encounter someone who they believe to be homeless or threatened with homelessness – to ask that person to allow the relevant council to be informed. If the person agrees, the public authority must notify the council and provide the person’s contact details.

Codes of practice for councils

Clause 11 allows the Secretary of State to produce codes of practice for Councils’ functions in relation to homelessness and homelessness prevention.

Homelessness prevention in Northern Ireland

The increasing emphasis on homelessness prevention, and tenancy sustainment, is also reflected in Northern Ireland. The first objective of the Housing Executive’s draft Homelessness Strategy 2017-2022 is “to prioritise homelessness prevention”, with significant emphasis being placed on early intervention and the roll-out of Housing Solutions and Support teams to Housing Executive offices across Northern Ireland.

Housing Rights’ work is focused on sustaining homes and preventing homelessness at the earliest stage.

Tagged In

Legislation, Homelessness

Author

Stephen Orme