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Social Housing Speed Read – Local Government Association issues guidance on the referral of homeless applicants to another local authority

On 5 August 2019, the Local Government Association (LGA) issued guidance on the procedure that should be followed by local authorities when referring a homeless applicant to another local authority. This discretionary power is provided to local authorities under part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996).

Under s.198 of the HA 1996, a local authority has discretion to refer a homeless applicant to another local housing authority provided that certain conditions are satisfied. The HA 1996 requires that the applicant, and any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, must not have a local connection with the district applied to. There must instead be a connection with the district of another local authority. An applicant has a local connection to a district if: they are, or were in the past, normally resident there and that was their own choice; they are employed there; they have family associations there or there are other special circumstances. In addition, there must be no risk of domestic violence in that other district. If all of the these conditions are met, a local authority may refer the applicant if it wishes.

The LGA recommends that a local authority, who considers that the above conditions may be met, should make enquiries in the other district as soon as possible to confirm the presence of a local connection. Any communication to the other local authority should be made promptly by telephone and confirmed in writing. A precedent notification form, to communicate with the other authority, can be found attached to the LGA guidelines. This should provide some assistance to local authorities and the LGA advise all authorities to make use of the form. Hopefully, this could lead to a standardisation of communication between authorities and allow referrals to be dealt with easier and more efficiently.

In addition to notifying the other local authority, the referring authority must also notify the applicant of its decision to refer and the reasons for this. The applicant must also be notified of the right to request a review of the decision. Once an applicant is notified of a referral, depending on whether the main duty or relief duty stage has been reached, the referring authority may have a duty to provide accommodation until the final decision has been made. The LGA repeat a previous recommendation by the local authority associations that an authority who accepts a referral should reimburse the referring authority for any expenses reasonably incurred in providing accommodation.

In relation to the local authority who receives the referral, the LGA recommend that a reply to the written notification should be sent within 10 days. If there is an unreasonable delay in this reply, the referring local authority may contact its local authority association who will intervene. A decision should then be made promptly and the LGA state that all authorities should nominate an officer who shall make such decisions.

If the authority receiving the referral believes that the necessary conditions have not been met, the guidance states that the authority should (within its reply that is mentioned above) set out its own view on the conditions. If the two authorities cannot come to an agreement, a referee must be appointed within 21 days. The LGA have created a panel of independent referees that can be utilised to resolve a disagreement and have also published  ‘Guidelines for invoking the disputes procedure’ which provide further information.

Ultimately, the LGA guidance provides local authorities with some assistance when they are navigating the procedure required to refer a homeless applicant to another local authority. The standard notification form that the LGA have provided could hopefully bring some uniformity to communications and their panel of referees may assist with any disputes between local authorities.

A copy of the LGA’s guidelines can be found here.

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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