Homelessness

Local authorities have a duty to house people who are homeless or who are threatened with homelessness, in certain circumstances. We understand that getting the help you need can be difficult.

Following recent reforms to the law, whether a local authority has a duty to help or not, is more complicated than ever. Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors are recognised leaders in this field will approach your case sensitively and provide you with clear advice to help you understand your position.

Hodge Jones & Allen has a fearsome reputation and an excellent track record for successfully challenging unlawful decisions made by local authorities, whether it’s an internal review with a local authority housing officer or taking a challenge to the Supreme Court, we can help you every step the way.

It’s our experience that the earlier you seek advice about your position, the quicker your issue may be resolved. If you would like to speak to someone from our team, call us on 0808 223 2891 or request to call back.

The duties of a local authority

Local authorities in England do not have to automatically assist everyone who approaches them as homeless. Rather, they will only have a duty to house those who meet the following criteria:

The Initial duty

  • 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.

Additionally, for the main housing duty:

  • 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 person 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 need. These are called the initial duties and include:

  • Assessments and Personalised Housing Plans

Housing authorities have a duty to carry out an assessment in all cases where an eligible applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness. This will identify what has caused the homelessness or threat of homelessness, the housing needs of the applicant and any support they need in order to be able to secure and retain accommodation.

Following this assessment, the housing authority must work with the applicant to develop a personalised housing plan which will include actions to be taken by the authority and the applicant 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 are unhappy with the findings of the assessment, then you a right to request a statutory review of the plan, this must be requested within 21 days of receiving the plan, legal aid is available for this.

  • The “Prevention Duty”

If an applicant is eligible for assistance and is threatened with homelessness, the authority must work with the applicant to help prevent homelessness within 56 days.
This means either helping an applicant to stay in their current accommodation or helping them to find a new place to live before they become actually homeless
For example, if you are served a with valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to end your assured short-hold tenancy you will be threatened with homelessness as you are likely to be 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. 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 “Relief Duty”

If an applicant is already homeless (or becomes homeless during the prevent stage) and is eligible for assistance, the authority must support the applicant to help relieve their homelessness within 56 days.

If the housing authority has reason to believe a homeless applicant 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 is not successfully prevented or relieved, a local authority will owe the main housing duty to applicants who are eligible, 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 for the applicant and their household 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.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.

  • Suitable Accommodation

Accommodation provided by the authority must always be suitable. 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 provide written notifications to applicants when they reach certain decisions about their case, and the reasons behind any decisions that are against the applicant’s interests. Applicants 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.

Why choose Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors?

Our team  is committed to providing a first class service to all our clients. We understand the severity of becoming homeless, therefore, we will always work very hard to change this outcome.

  • Highly Regarded

Hodge Jones & Allen are 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 are also recommended as a leading team in housing law by Chambers UK.

  • Funding options

We hold a legal aid contract to provide free legal help to those who qualify. We will 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 has not dealt with your application in such a way, then we will assist you to challenge their decision with the aim of having that decision overturned.

  • Solicitors you can trust

You will find our solicitors are passionately committed to defending the rights of those in need of housing. We will fight vigorously to get the best possible result we can achieve.

Examples of some of our successful outcomes:

  • Our client, a vulnerable man with several health problems, applied as homeless to his local authority. They refused to house him as they did not consider him to have a priority need for accommodation. After we challenged the authority’s decision including a county court appeal, they accepted they had a duty to house our client
  • We have assisted an extremely vulnerable woman who was experiencing severe domestic violence to flee from her home and obtain the main housing duty and a safe home, after challenging a decision on review.
  • A local authority who were acting unlawfully by placing a disabled man on the street were challenged by an emergency judicial review, an order was obtained to require the local authority to continue to provide him with emergency accommodation
  • Our client refused an offer of temporary accommodation by the council as she thought it was unsuitable for her and her children. She requested a review of the decision but didn’t obtain any legal advice, she lost her review. We challenged the review decision in the county court and they council later agreed the property was unsuitable and made her a new offer of accommodation that was suitable.
  • We have successfully challenged how the initial duties may be ended by a local authority by bringing a claim for judicial review, this case has provided much needed clarification in the law.
  • We have successfully challenged an out of borough placement in the Supreme Court, this is now the leading case and the judgement resulted in local authorities needing to have clear policies in place.

Frequently asked questions

I am homeless and living on the street, I have applied to my local authority but I haven’t heard back from them. What can I do?

All authorities must give proper consideration to 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 have not then this, then they are acting unlawfully and you should seek advice as to whether you may challenge this by way of judicial review.

I am sofa surfing and have just found out that I am pregnant. I’m 20 and British. Does my council have to help me find housing?

Yes. Whilst the authority carry 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 have said that I don’t have a priority need. I am 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 why they say you are 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 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.

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