some default text...

Homelessness Reduction Bill

Explanatory Notes

Commentary on provisions of Bill

Clause 1: Meaning of "threatened with homelessness"

14 This clause amends section 175 of the 1996 Act to make changes to the way local housing authorities assess the point at which a person is threatened with homelessness.

15 New subsection 175(4) of the 1996 Act provides that a person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that they will become homeless within 56 days, doubling the previous 28 day period and meaning that local authorities must work with people to prevent homelessness at an earlier stage.

16 New subsection 175(5) makes clear that a person is threatened with homelessness if they have been served with a valid notice under section of the 21 Housing Act 1988 for their current home that expires in 56 days or less and they have no other accommodation available.

Clause 2: Duty to provide advisory services

17 This clause extends the duty to provide advisory services in the 1996 Act by substituting a new section 179. This places a duty on local housing authorities to provide, or secure the provision of, free information and advice services to any person in the authority’s district on preventing and relieving homelessness; the rights of homeless people or those threatened with homelessness; help that is available from the local housing authority or others; and how to access that help. The service must be designed with certain listed vulnerable groups in mind, for example care leavers and victims of domestic abuse.

Clause 3: Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan

18 This clause inserts a new duty (section 189A) into the 1996 Act. If they are satisfied that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness, and eligible for assistance, local housing authorities are required to carry out an assessment. The assessment must look at the circumstances that caused the applicant’s homelessness or threatened homelessness, their housing needs and the support they need to be able to have and retain suitable accommodation. The applicant must be informed in writing of the assessment made.

19 Following the assessment the local housing authority must work with the applicant to agree the actions to be taken by both parties to ensure the applicant has and is able to retain suitable accommodation.

20 If actions are agreed by both parties then the local housing authority must record the actions in writing. If the parties cannot agree, the local housing authority must put in writing why this was the case, what steps they think the applicant should take, and what steps the local housing authority will take.

21 If the local housing authority’s assessment of the applicant’s case changes, for example due to new circumstances arising, they must notify the applicant in writing of any changes to the assessment. If the original plan needs to be amended the local housing authority must also notify the applicant in writing. If the local housing authority decides that the steps which were agreed are no longer appropriate then they must disregard any failure to take those steps for the purposes of Part 7 of the 1996 Act.

22 If the applicant has not received a copy of an assessment or re-assessment, then they will have been deemed to have received it if a copy has been made available at the local housing authority’s office for collection for a reasonable amount of time.

Clause 4: Duty in cases of threatened homelessness

23 This clause substitutes a new section 195 into the 1996 Act which requires local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to help prevent homelessness for any eligible household threatened with homelessness.

24 Subsection (2) places local housing authorities under a duty to take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that accommodation does not stop being available for their occupation. The steps to be taken should be informed by the assessment that is set out in the duty to assess and agree a personalised plan (clause 3). Examples of the type of steps a local housing authority might take are to provide a security deposit enabling the household to secure a tenancy or mediation to help keep families together.

25 The duty on local housing authorities to help secure accommodation for those threatened with homelessness can come to an end in a number of ways (see subsection 8(a) to (g)):

If the local housing authority is satisfied that suitable accommodation has been secured where there is a reasonable prospect of that accommodation being retained for six months (or a longer period up to 12 months if prescribed in regulations).

The local housing authority has provided help and assistance in compliance with this duty for a period of 56 days. However, the duty cannot be brought to an end in this way (even if the 56 days have passed) where a valid section 21 notice has been served that will expire in 56 days or has already expired and the applicant remains in the property with no other accommodation available.

The applicant becomes homeless, that is the prevention support has not been able to stop them losing their accommodation. At this point the ‘relief’ duties, namely the duties owed to those who are homeless, apply (see below at clause 5).

The applicant refuses an offer of suitable accommodation and there was a reasonable prospect of that accommodation being available for six months (or a longer period up to 12 months if prescribed in regulations).

The applicant has become intentionally homeless from accommodation provided to the applicant following the local housing authority’s exercise of their functions under subsection (2).

The applicant is no longer eligible for assistance.

The applicant chooses to withdraw their homelessness application.

26 The local housing authority must give notice (which must be in writing) to the applicant to end the duty if any of the above circumstances apply.

27 The changes made by clause 7 also allow for this duty to end if an applicant has ‘deliberately and unreasonably refused to co-operate’ with the steps in their personalised plan An applicant can only be found to have not co-operated after certain requirements are met (see section on clause 7 for more detail). Statutory guidance will set out the Secretary of State’s view of what it means to ‘deliberately and unreasonably refuse to co-operate’.

Clause 5: Duties owed to those who are homeless

28 This clause makes a number of amendments to the 1996 Act including inserting two new sections (189B and 199A). Section 189B places a duty on local housing authorities to take reasonable steps for 56 days to relieve homelessness by helping any eligible homeless applicant to secure accommodation.

29 Help would be provided for households whether or not they are in ‘priority need’ under the 1996 Act (persons in priority need are, for example, people with dependent children or those who are vulnerable as a result of old age or disability). Local housing authorities will be required to take reasonable steps that are likely to help the applicant to secure accommodation. Reasonable steps could include, for example, providing a rent deposit or access to mediation to keep households together.

30 This duty on a local housing authority to help secure accommodation for those who are homeless can come to an end in a number of ways:

If the local housing authority is satisfied that suitable accommodation has been secured where there is a reasonable prospect of that accommodation being retained for at least 6 months (or a longer period up to 12 months where prescribed in regulations).

The authority has provided help and assistance in compliance with this duty for a period of 56 days.

The applicant refuses an offer of suitable accommodation and there was a reasonable prospect of that accommodation being available for six months (or a longer period up to 12 months if prescribed in regulations).

The applicant has become intentionally homeless from accommodation provided to the applicant following the local housing authority’s exercise of their functions under section 189B(2).

The applicant is no longer eligible.

The applicant chooses to withdraw their homelessness application.

The changes made by clause 7 also allow for this duty to end if an applicant has ‘deliberately and unreasonably refused to co-operate’ with the authority when the authority has been taking action to prevent the applicant’s homelessness. An applicant can only be found to have not co-operated after certain requirements are met (see clause 7). Statutory guidance will set out the Secretary of State’s view of what it means to ‘deliberately and unreasonably refuse to co-operate’.

31 Clause 7 also provides that this duty comes to an end where an applicant refuses either a final Part 6 offer (a suitable offer of social housing) or a final accommodation offer (an assured short hold tenancy with a term of at least 6 months in the private rented sector).

32 The local housing authority must inform the applicant in writing, by way of a notice, if they want to bring the duty to an end.

33 Local housing authorities will owe a duty to those in priority need to provide interim accommodation while the local authority is carrying out its duties to relieve the applicant’s homelessness or until settled accommodation is secured. This duty can come to an end if the local housing authority decides the applicant is not in fact in priority need during the course of the 56 day period of the relief duty.

Clause 6: Duties to help to secure accommodation

34 This clause amends section 205 of the 1996 Act to make clear that where a local housing authority secures accommodation for an applicant as part of their prevention or relief duties, sections 206 to 209 of the Housing Act 1996 apply in the same way they would if the accommodation was secured under the main homelessness duty. These sections contain various provisions about how they discharge their functions, for example, how they may secure accommodation and that they must notify the other local authority if accommodation is secured for the applicant in that district.

Clause 7: Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate: duty upon giving of notice

35 Clause 7 inserts new sections [193A], 193B and 193C into the 1996 Housing Act.

36 These new sections set out the procedure and duties which apply if an applicant who is homeless or threatened with homelessness deliberately and unreasonably refuses to take any steps set out in the personalised plan. They also set out the procedure and duties which apply if an applicant who is homeless or threatened with homelessness refuses, at the relief stage, a suitable final accommodation offer in the private rented sector or an allocation of social housing (a part 6 offer).

37 The steps referred to above are those the applicant is required to take to secure and retain suitable accommodation, as set out in the personalised plan described under clause 3. If the local housing authority considers that the applicant is deliberately and unreasonably refusing to co-operate it must give them a warning. The warning must explain that a notice will be served which has consequences for the duties owed to the applicant if the applicant does not begin to co-operate.

38 If the applicant continues to refuse to co-operate, the local housing authority can issue a notice which brings the duties to help secure accommodation under section 189B (to take reasonable steps to help secure accommodation for the homeless) and section 195B (duty to take reasonable steps to help the applicant prevent homelessness) to an end.

39 New section 193A describes the requirements that must be met if a local housing authority is to end the relief duty because an applicant has refused a final accommodation offer or a final part 6 offer at the relief stage and where the section 193 (main housing duty) would not apply. These include that the offer must be of an assured shorthold tenancy for a period of at least 6 months or of social housing and the applicant must be informed of the consequences of refusal and their right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation.

40 Where a duty has been ended for non-cooperation with the personalised plan the local housing authority has a further duty to the applicant if they are homeless, eligible for assistance and in ‘priority need’ and became homeless through no fault of their own. The local housing authority must make a final accommodation offer, as a minimum, of an assured shorthold tenancy of at least six months or a final offer of social housing.

41 Applicants whose prevention and relief support ends under clause 7 will not be eligible for the duty under section 193 (the main housing duty).This clause also allows the Secretary of State to make regulations as to the procedure to be followed by the local housing authority in connection with notices under section 193B (notices in cases of an applicant’s deliberate and unreasonable refusal to cooperate).

Clause 8: Local connection of a care leaver

42 This clause amends section 199 of the 1996 Act to provide that all care leavers who are owed continuing duties under section 23C of the Children Act 1989 are deemed to have a local connection in the area of the local authority that owes them those duties. Where the young person was looked after by a county council they will have a local connection to any district in that county.

43 Where a care leaver has lived in a different area to the above for at least two years, some or all of which falls before they turned 16, they also have a local connection with that district until they are 21.

Clause 9: Reviews

44 This clause makes amendments to section 202 of the 1996 Act which sets out which decisions of a local housing authority can be reviewed. The clause adds rights of review in relation to new duties in the Bill. An applicant has the right to request a review when a local housing authority:

a. makes a decision as to what duty is owed to an applicant under new sections 189B (initial duty owed to all persons who are homeless) and 193B (duties to applicants who have deliberately and unreasonably failed to cooperate);

b. makes a decision as to the steps they are to take to help the applicant secure suitable accommodation under section 189B(2) (reasonable steps to help the applicant secure suitable accommodation);

c. makes a decision to give notice they will bring the duty to help secure accommodation under section 189B (5) to an end;

d. makes a decision to give an applicant notice that they have deliberately and unreasonably failed to cooperate under section 193B(2);

e. makes a decision under section 195(2) as to the steps to be taken where an applicant is threatened with homelessness and the local housing authority must take reasonable steps to help the applicant prevent homelessness;

f. makes a decision under section 195(5) to give notice they are bringing the above duty to an end; or

g. makes a decision as to the suitability of accommodation offered by way of a final Part 6 offer or a final accommodation offer (under section 193C or 193A).

Clause 10: Duty of public authority to refer cases to local housing authority

45 This clause inserts a new section 213A to the 1996 Act. This applies to all public authorities specified in regulations if they consider that a person in England to whom they exercise functions may be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In those circumstances the public authority must ask that person to agree to a local housing authority being notified and, provided the person agrees, notify a local housing authority and provide them with the persons contact details.

46 The person may choose which local housing authority they wish to be referred to.

Clause 11: Code of practice

47 This clause inserts a new section 214A into the 1996 Act which enables the Secretary of State to produce codes of practice dealing with local housing authorities’ functions in relation homelessness or homelessness prevention.

48 The clause provides a non-exhaustive list of areas which might be covered by any code of practice.

49 Prior to issuing a new code of practice the Secretary of State must lay a draft before Parliament. The Secretary of State may issue the code in the form of the draft if no negative resolution of either House of Parliament is made within 40 days.

Clause 12: Suitability of private rented sector accommodation

50 This clause amends Article 3 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 to require a local housing authority to satisfy itself that specific requirements set out in Article 3 are in place where it secures accommodation for households with a priority need in the private rented sector. This clause extends the existing requirements to cover the new duties under the amended 1996 Act – sections 189B (to take reasonable steps to help secure accommodation for the homeless) and 195 (duty to take reasonable steps to help the applicant prevent homelessness) in cases where the local housing authority secures accommodation for an applicant.

51 It also extends the requirement to accommodation secured when an applicant is housed under a "final accommodation offer" (clause 7). These requirements include things like the provision of a valid gas safety certificate and reasonable precautions to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. The accommodation will not be regarded as suitable if any of the requirements are not in place.

 

Prepared 3rd February 2017