Homelessness

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) - what you need to know

What is the HRA?

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, implemented on 3 April 2018, places new duties on housing authorities to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness and to take reasonable steps to relieve homelessness for all eligible applicants, not just those that have priority need under the Act. This Act does not replace the previous legislation but 'bolts on' new duties.

The three main aims of the HRA are to:

  1. Prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place by identifying people at risk and intervening earlier with evidenced solutions
  2. Intervene rapidly if a homelessness crisis occurs, so it is brief and non-recurrent
  3. Help more people recover from and exit homelessness by getting them back on their feet

Why was the HRA introduced?

The Act is based on the work of an independent panel of experts established by Crisis (the national charity for single homeless people) and draws heavily on changes made to the Welsh homeless legislation in 2015. Crisis highlighted a number of issues with the way the current law was working in practice:

  • A lack of meaningful advice and assistance, which in some areas was not tailored to the individual’s needs
  • Some local authorities were only helping at crisis point
  • Local authorities were doing prevention work, but it was outside of the legal framework
  • There was little protection for single people who did not have priority need or those who were 'intentionally homeless'

Purpose

The Act aims to reduce homelessness by:

  • Improving the quality of the advice available
  • Refocusing local authorities on prevention work
  • Increasing support for single people
  • Joining up services to provide better support for people, especially those leaving prison/hospital and other groups at increased risk of homelessness, such as people fleeing domestic abuse and care leavers.

What is changing?

Improving advice

The Act requires local authorities to give free information and advice on:

  • Preventing homelessness and securing accommodation when homeless
  • The rights of people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness
  • How to get help.
  • Information on tenants’ rights, rights to benefits, advice on debt, rent and mortgage arrears, help for people at risk of violence and abuse and advice on how to obtain accommodation in the social sector and private rented sector.

If you would like advice about housing options you can find more information on our help finding a home page.

New ‘prevention duty’

Local authorities must take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness for any eligible applicant who is at risk of homelessness within 56 days, regardless of priority need. This can involve assisting them to stay in their current accommodation or helping them to find a new place to live.

New ‘relief duty’

Local authorities must take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure suitable accommodation. Help could be, for example, providing a bond guarantee, funding a rent deposit or working with a private landlord to make properties available.

Personal housing plans

Local authorities must carry out a holistic assessment of the applicant’s housing needs, support needs and the circumstances that led to them becoming homeless. This assessment will result in developing a personal housing plan with them that sets out the reasonable steps that they, Ealing Council’s housing solutions team and, if applicable, other professionals will take in order to prevent or relieve their homelessness.

Duty to refer

Specified public bodies must refer (with consent) details of any person they are aware of who is at risk of homelessness, within 56 days, to the housing solutions team.

Care leavers

In addition to having a local connection to the authority who looked after them, a care leaver will also have a local connection with an area if they have lived there for two years, including some time before their 16th birthday.

Assessment process changes

Ealing Council’s housing solutions team will carry out the holistic assessment, which is likely to take up to ten days to complete. Following this, a personal housing plan will be created.

Applicants are likely to experience longer interviews, as these will be more in-depth in order to produce their personal housing plan.

There may be an increase in waiting times, because staff will spend more time working with each customer.

Partnership working

Everyone has a role to play in preventing homelessness. The Act provides an opportunity to work more closely with partners to co-produce an approach to homelessness prevention with those affected. It is crucial that stakeholders understand their important role in identifying people at risk of homelessness at an earlier stage, referring them to Ealing Council’s housing solutions team and then working collaboratively to help the person resolve their homelessness in a sustainable way.

To support this, we will

  • Work with colleagues across the wider public sector to ensure that operational staff take a proactive approach to homelessness and understand the triggers and indicators that a person or household is experiencing difficulties with their housing
  • Develop refreshed joint-working protocols to ensure transparency around processes and pathways and the housing available within the borough
  • Provide better information, training and guidance to partners on what help is available and how we can work together
  • Work closely with the public bodies named below to implement the 'duty to refer'.

What do we hope to achieve?

  • By intervening earlier in someone’s homelessness, we hope to prevent more people from losing their homes, thus reducing both the human and financial costs of homelessness
  • By focusing on addressing the underlying causes of homelessness (such as unemployment or lack of understanding about what kind of housing is affordable) as well as the symptoms, customers will increase their independence and resilience and be helped to recover from homelessness in a way that will last
  • Working together to deliver the duty to refer and other early interventions to address homeless should improve partnership working and help the council and other partners to work together to resolve homelessness
  • Better evidencing of need and what works, will help us to make sure our officers have the right skills and that our service is set up to achieve the best results for our customers.

Temporary accommodation provision

Where Ealing Council has reason to believe that a person is homeless, eligible and has a priority need, interim accommodation will be provided. This remains unchanged from the 1996 Housing Act. Priority need and intentional homelessness will remain part of the assessment process for the council when dealing with full homelessness applications if the new ‘prevention duty’ and ‘relief duty’ fail to resolve an applicant’s homelessness.

If the housing solutions team cannot resolve a person’s homelessness and they are eligible for public funds, homeless and in priority need, we will find emergency accommodation for them. In the 56 days after a person becomes homeless, we must continue to work with them to try to help them find somewhere else to live.

People who are eligible for public funds and in priority need will remain in emergency housing while they are given support from the council to find a new home.

It is important to note that the Act is not about providing greater access to social rented homes and it will not create any new social housing.

If homelessness cannot be prevented

If all prevention and relief duty activity fails, the usual tests (priority need and intentional homelessness) are applied to determine whether the person is owed the full homelessness duty.

Public bodies included in the 'duty to refer'

The 'duty to refer' started in October 2018. The agencies that have this duty are:

  • Prisons
  • Youth offender institutions
  • Secure training centres
  • Secure colleges
  • Youth offending teams
  • Probation services (including community rehabilitation companies)
  • Jobcentre Plus
  • Social service authorities
  • Emergency departments
  • Urgent treatment centres
  • Hospitals in their function of providing inpatient care
  • The Secretary of State for Defence is also subject to the duty to refer in relation to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the regular Army and the Royal Air Force.

More information on the HRA

The Government has recently published a new homelessness code of guidance which provides more information.

Notification to end the 'prevention duty' or 'relief duty' due to deliberate and unreasonable refusal to co-operate

The homelessness code of guidance 2018 outlines the circumstances under which the local authority can bring the prevention or relief duty to an end. As part of the statutory duty to prevent or relieve homelessness, a personal housing plan is produced by working collaboratively with the applicant.

The personal housing plan will contain reasonable steps for the applicant to take in order to prevent or relieve their homelessness. If the applicant deliberately or unreasonably refuses to comply with these steps, a warning letter is issued for non-compliance and ultimately the prevention and relief duty can be brought to an end by issuing the applicant with a notice.