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Social Housing Speed Read – Government action on homelessness prevention

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has published a draft statutory code of guidance which will accompany the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA), due to come into force in April 2018.

The DCLG has now published a revised draft the Homelessness Code of Guidance (“Code”) for consultation ahead of publication of the final Code in Spring 2018. The Code is aimed at local authorities to ensure they intervene earlier in order to prevent families and individuals becoming homeless in the first place and also sets out how councils should be implementing the HRA when it comes into force.

What will the new act require?

The new HRA places duties on local authorities to try and prevent homelessness in their districts by intervening at earlier stages. Housing authorities are also required to provide their homelessness services to all of those affected, without the need to consider whether the applicant has ‘priority need’.

These new duties include:

  • Free information and advice on preventing and alleviating homelessness to all residents within the local authority.
  • The prevention duty is doubled from 28 to 56 days for households that are threatened with homelessness.
  • Those who are already homeless now will receive help in securing accommodation for 56 days from local authorities.

How will the implementation of the HRA be funded?

The total amount of funding now available for local authorities to implement the HRA is £72.7 million. An increase of £11.7 million was injected into the fund after discussions with local authorities on the resources that would be required to implement the HRA. This funding is to be shared across local authorities for two years to meet the cost of implementing the HRA.

Funding of £3 million is also being provided so as to allow local authorities to upgrade their data systems, enabling local authorities to assess more accurately how the HRA is changing homelessness prevention in their districts.

This comes on top of, and in addition to, a Government investment of £550 million until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Minister for Homelessness, Marcus Jones, has said “the guidance and Government funding will support [local authorities] in making sure people will get the help they need earlier to prevent them becoming homeless in the first place”.

The draft Code and consultation

The draft Code aims to provide guidance on how authorities should fulfil their statutory duties under the HRA and exercise their functions and services relating to homelessness. The draft Code, if published in its current form, will streamline guidance from 268 to 170 pages. Dependant on its final form, it remains to be seen whether this makes the legislation clearer and more accessible.

Whilst the Code is geared towards local authorities, it is still of direct relevance to registered providers as they are required to co-operate with housing authorities in exercising their homelessness functions.

The consultation is seeking views and responses on the draft Code and the new duties local authorities will be subject to including:

  • Ensuring information and advice about homelessness is available at no cost to all residents within the local authority;
  • Producing a personalised plan, if the authority is satisfied that the applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness and are also eligible for assistance;
  • Providing advisory services to all applicants, not just priority applicants, including those considered ‘intentionally homeless’;
  • Securing suitable accommodation for homeless applicants, or supporting applicants vulnerable of homelessness to stay in their current home, whenever possible.

The 8 week consultation closes on 11 December 2017 and a final version of the Code will be published in Spring 2018. Free training on the HRA is also being provided by the Government for local authority staff up until April 2018.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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