Local authorities have a duty to house people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, in certain circumstances. We understand that getting the help you need can be difficult and can feel like a very lonely experience. If you feel you’ve been let down by your local housing authority, we could help.
Following recent reforms to the law, whether a local authority has a duty to help or not, is more complicated than ever. We’re recognised leaders in this field will approach your case sensitively and provide you with clear advice to help you understand your position.
We have a fearsome reputation and an excellent track record for successfully challenging unlawful decisions made by local authorities. We can help support your case, whether it’s an internal review with a local authority housing officer or taking a challenge to the Supreme Court.
It’s our experience that the earlier you seek advice about your position, the quicker your issue may be resolved.
The duties of a local authority
Local authorities in England don’t have to automatically assist everyone who approaches them as homeless. Rather, they’ll only have a duty to house those who meet the following criteria:
An applicant must be eligible for assistance
This is generally a question of immigration and nationality and the rules are quite complex.
An applicant must be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days
This is generally where the applicant has no accommodation available to them or no accommodation that is reasonable to continue to occupy.
An applicant must be in priority need
The local authority should determine whether, if homeless, the applicant would be significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person would be if they became homeless. There are special classes of people who will not need to show this, such as pregnant women or those with dependent children.
An applicant must not have become homeless intentionally
Essentially, this means an applicant must not have done something deliberately that has caused the loss of accommodation. The most common example of this is where someone has lost their home as they failed to pay rent.
Recent law reforms and the new process
In 2018, the law on homelessness was significantly reformed by placing duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas. It also placed duties upon local authorities to provide homelessness services to all those affected, not just those who have priority. These are called the initial duties and include:
Assessments and Personalised Housing Plans
Housing authorities must assess all cases where an eligible applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness. This will identify:
- What has caused the homelessness or threat of homelessness
- Your specific housing needs
- Any support they need in order to be able to secure and retain accommodation.
Following this assessment, the housing authority must work with you to develop a personalised housing plan which will include actions to be taken by yourself and the authority to try and prevent or relieve homelessness. This must be given to the applicant in writing.
A failure to perform this duty is unlawful and could be subject to a Judicial Review, legal aid is available for this.
If you’re unhappy with the findings of the assessment, then you have a right to request a statutory review of the plan. This must be requested within 21 days of receiving the plan.
The “Prevention Duty”
If you’re eligible for assistance and are threatened with homelessness, the authority must help prevent homelessness within 56 days.
This means either helping you stay in their current accommodation or helping you find a new place to live before they become homeless
For example, if you’re served with a valid eviction notice, you’ll be threatened with homelessness as you’re likely to become homeless within 56 days.
Any decision under this section carries a right to a statutory review, this must be requested within 21 days of receiving the decision.
A failure to perform this duty (usually by not making a decision) is unlawful and could be subject to a Judicial Review, legal aid is available for this.
The “Relief Duty”
If you’re already homeless (or become homeless during the prevent stage) and are eligible for assistance, the authority must help relieve your homelessness within 56 days.
If the housing authority has reason to believe you may be eligible for assistance and have a priority need, they must be provided with emergency accommodation.
Any decision under this section carries a right to a statutory review, this must be requested within 21 days of receiving the decision. Legal aid is available for these reviews. A failure to perform this duty (usually by not making a decision) is unlawful and could be subject to a Judicial Review, legal aid is available for this.
The “Main Housing Duty”
If homelessness isn’t successfully prevented or relieved, a local authority will owe the main housing duty to you if you have a priority need for accommodation and are not homeless intentionally.
Under the main housing duty, local authorities must ensure that suitable accommodation is available until the duty is brought to an end, usually through the offer of a settled home.
Any decision under this section carries a right to a statutory review, this must be requested within 21 days of receiving the decision. Legal aid is available for these reviews. Failure to perform this duty (usually by not making a decision) is unlawful and could be subject to a Judicial Review, legal aid is available for this.
Accommodation provided by the authority must always be suitable. This could mean making sure the property has enough space for your family or is adapted according to any disabilities you may have.
Generally, decisions about suitability carry a statutory right to review and legal aid is available for this.
Reviews and appeals to the County Court
Housing authorities must give you a written notification when they reach certain decisions about your case, and the reasons behind any decisions that are against your interests. You can ask the housing authority to review most aspects of their decisions, and, if still dissatisfied, can appeal to the county court on a point of law.
Any statutory review or appeal must be requested within 21 days of receiving the decision.
Housing authorities have the power (but not a duty) to accommodate applicants pending a review or appeal to the county court. See our post on appeals for more information.
"In the last few years, the social housing team at Hodge Jones and Allen has gone from strength to strength and are now one of the largest and most prominent firms in this sector. They have been involved in some of the most notable cases before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court in the last couple of years..." Legal 500, 2021
Why choose Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors?
Our expert team is committed to providing a first-class service to all our clients. We understand the severity of becoming homeless, therefore, we’ll always work very hard to change this outcome and keep a roof over your head.
We’re recognised as one of the highest ranking law firms for social housing and tenant law in the UK. We are one of only four firms in the UK to be listed as a Tier 1 firm for this area of law in the Legal 500 guide. We’re also recommended as a leading team in housing law by Chambers UK.
We hold a legal aid contract to provide free legal help to those who qualify. We’ll assess your case and provide you with sensible advice as to whether your application has been dealt with correctly and lawfully. If the local authority hasn’t dealt with your application in such a way, then we’ll assist you to challenge their decision with the aim of having that decision overturned.
We acted for a refugee in a battle with his local authority who were threatening to make him homeless on account of non-priority need. On his behalf, we asked the council to consider the fact that he had both mental and physical health issues. The council decided that he was not “vulnerable” in housing terms.However, in an application for review, we said that his mental health would deteriorate if he was rendered homeless, despite which the council still considered our client not to be in priority need. The case was then appealed to the county court and a request made for urgent interim accommodation. Both succeeded and the council were required to issue a fresh decision and pending that decision, the client was provided temporary accommodation.
We acted in a case where a local authority were acting unlawfully by placing a disabled man on the street. They were challenged by an emergency judicial review. An order was obtained to require the local authority to continue to provide him with emergency accommodation to prevent him from being homeless.
I’m homeless and living on the street. I’ve applied to my local authority, but I haven’t heard back from them. What can I do?
All authorities must consider all applications for housing assistance, and if they have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, they must make inquiries to see whether they owe them any duty.
If they haven’t, then they’re acting unlawfully, and you should seek advice as to whether you may challenge this by way of judicial review.
I’m sofa surfing and have just found out that I’m pregnant. I’m 20 and British. Does my council have to help me find housing?
Yes. Whilst the authority carries out an assessment and any inquiries as to what duty they owe you, they should also provide you with emergency accommodation. If they fail to do so then you may be able to seek a judicial review to require them to do so, you may be entitled to legal aid to bring this claim.
My local council has said that I don’t have a priority need. I’m on the street and I have severe asthma and type-1 diabetes. What can I do?
Your local authority must make a decision giving reasons as to why they say you’re not in priority need. You will have 21 days to request a review of this decision, setting out why you disagree with the decision.
You can also ask the local authority to accommodate you whilst the review is ongoing. There is no duty for them to do so, but they must consider your request. The local authority will complete the review within 56 days. You may be entitled to legal aid for assistance with your review.