Wednesday, 28 February 2018

New Laws For Homeless

Homeless or threatened with homelessness? Some good news for a change. You can demand more help from the housing department of your local council as from 3 April 2018 when the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 comes into force (through commencement order SI/2018/167) and applies only to England.  A code of guidance on how councils should discharge their new duties towards you  has been issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which you can access at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homelessness-code-of-guidance-for-local-authorities  It's well worth doing so. You will there see spelt out  in language which is almost digestible without the aid of medication what is expected of councils.

Councils will have to begin giving help earlier than is currently required. That's because you will be treated as threatened with homelessness if it is likely you will be actually made homeless within 56 days, compared with the present 28 days. You will also be treated as threatened with homelessness if you are an assured shorthold tenant and have received a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 which requires you to leave within 56 days. 

Provided the council reckons you have a priority need and have not intentionally made yourself homeless they they must secure you suitable accommodation. That's the law now and will remain the law. But the situation is tough on those who do not have a priority need like most  single persons and the intentionally homeless. The new law imposes duties on councils to help even the non-priority and intentionally homeless who have been neglected for too long. 

The first new duty to those eligible is to assess your case and to give you the assessment in writing. It will look at the circumstances in which you came to be homeless or under threat, your housing needs and what support is necessary. The council is also to try and agree a housing plan with you. If there's no agreement on the plan then the council must record any steps it considers it reasonable for you to take and what steps it will take itself. 

There is a revised separate duty towards an eligible person threatened with homelessness which will be to take reasonable steps to ensure that accommodation does not cease to be available to you. Those steps could extend to providing some accommodation. When looking at what steps are reasonable, regard will be had to that assessment I mentioned. This duty will normally run for 56 days but it could be longer for the recipient of a section 21 notice who remains where they are when the notice expires and awaits court proceedings to evict them.

Once the council is satisfied that you are actually homeless, there is a new duty to take reasonable steps to help you secure suitable accommodation for at least six months. That duty will last for 56 days unless it is brought an end by the council at an earlier date in one of the situations that are specified by the legislation.  The duty will not arise if the council refers you to another housing authority because you lack a local connection with the council to which you have gone for help. 

Decisions by the council on theses duties will generally be open to review at your option. Where you reckon the council is not doing its job, you should seek help from an advice agency such as the CAB or local law centre or you may be eligible for legal aid. You will find others sources of help in Breaking Law. Shelter gives free housing advice in any London borough on 0344 515 1540 and some legal advice for those who pass a means test may be available from the Legal Aid Agency on 0345 345 4345. Good luck.