Homelessness - Duty to refer
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The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 significantly reformed England’s homelessness legislation by placing duties on local housing authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas, and to provide homelessness services to all those who are eligible.
Additionally, the act introduced a duty on specified public authorities to refer service users who they think may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to local authority homelessness/housing options teams (see paragraph 7 of the Homelessness code of guidance). This duty is effective from 1 October 2018 and will apply to the list of public authorities set out below.
The duty to refer will help to ensure that services are working together effectively to prevent homelessness by ensuring that peoples’ housing needs are considered when they come into contact with public authorities. It is also anticipated that it will encourage local housing authorities and other public authorities to build strong partnerships which enable them to work together to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness through, increasingly integrated services.
Public authorities with a duty to refer
The specified public authorities (see the Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018) subject to the duty to refer are (in England only):
- emergency departments
- hospitals in their function of providing inpatient care
- Jobcentres in relation to members of the regular armed forces
- secure colleges
- secure training centres
- social service authorities (both adult and children’s)
- urgent treatment centres
- young offender institutions
- youth offending teams.
The duty to refer only applies to the specified public authorities in England and individuals can only be referred to a local housing authority in England (see paragraph 4.2 of the Homelessness code of guidance).
Requirements of the duty to refer
The new duty requires the specified public authorities to identify and refer a service user who is homeless or may be threatened with homelessness, to a local housing authority of the service user’s choice.
The service user must consent to the referral being made. The consent can be made in writing or given orally (see the section below), although the person referring should follow the agreed processes set out in their agency’s internal guidance, if applicable.
A person is considered homeless if:
- they do not have any accommodation which is available for them which they have a legal right to occupy, or
- it is not reasonable for the person to occupy their current accommodation, for example, because they would be at risk of domestic abuse (see paragraphs 6.3-6.4 of the Homelessness code of guidance).
Someone is defined as being threatened with homelessness where they are likely to become homeless within 56 days, or have been served with a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 by their landlord, which expires within 56 days.
Identifying when a referral might be required
Staff in public authorities will usually know if a service user is sleeping rough and therefore actually homeless. They may also become aware of service users who are homeless but not roofless (sometimes described as ‘sofa surfers’) if they provide ‘care of’ addresses or frequently change their address.
Identifying that a family, couple or individual is threatened with homelessness is less straight forward. The following are factors that would indicate that a service user may be threatened with homelessness and should be asked about their housing circumstances:
- approaching discharge from hospital, armed forces or release from custody, with no accommodation available to them
- being a victim of domestic abuse, or other forms of violence, threats or intimidation
- having previously been in care, the armed forces or in prison
- problems with a landlord, being threatened with eviction or served notice to leave
- problems with debt, particularly rent or mortgage arrears.
Choosing which local authority to refer to
The duty allows service users to choose which local housing authority they are referred to. However, when discussing the referral and offering guidance to the service user, it is important to be aware that local housing authorities owe more duties towards homeless applicants who have a local connection with their area.
If a person asks to be referred to an area they do not have a local connection to, the local housing authority might subsequently refer them on to another local housing authority to which they do have a local connection (see chapter 10 of the Homelessness code of guidance).
In general, a service user is likely to have a local connection to an area if they live or have lived there, work there or have a close family connection. However, a service user should not be referred to an area where they would be at risk of violence.
In addition to the usual rules about local connection, care leavers have special provision. This provides that where the service user is a care leaver aged 18-21, in addition to any local connection they may have elsewhere, they will have a local connection with the local authority that looked after them. In addition to any area where they have been placed in accommodation for at least two years, including a period before their 16th birthday.
In areas where there is a county council and district councils (often referred to as two-tier areas), care leavers will have a local connection with every local housing authority (district council) that falls within the area of the local authority (county) that cared for them.
A referral cannot be made without the service user’s consent. Those working with a service user they consider ought to be referred should ensure that the service user understands the purpose of the referral, and consents to information and contact details being passed on to the local housing authority (see paragraph 4.1 of the Homelessness code of guidance).
It is advisable to obtain the service user’s signature to confirm that they have consented to a referral being made, however oral consent is acceptable. Consent should be informed, taking into account circumstances where the service user would not benefit from a referral being made, for example, because the service user already has an open application for assistance from the local housing authority. Public authorities are advised to record on the service user’s records if a referral has been made, and if consent to a referral is refused.
Public authorities providing services to children within a family that is threatened with homelessness or is actually homeless, will usually need to obtain consent from a parent or adult defence before referring the family to a local housing authority. However, referrals without consent may be made in order to safeguard children or vulnerable adults, in accordance with local procedures.
Process for referrals
West Suffolk councils are working with public authorities in our area to design effective referral mechanisms which meet their local circumstances.
If you would like to make a referral visit: Housing Assistance Referral Portal
If you are unable to access the online forms please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on contact details for local housing authorities can be found at: carer-help-from-council