The Homelessness Reduction Act – What changes will it bring?

On the 3rd of April this year, the law changed regarding those who are vulnerably housed. Legal duties have now been imposed upon local councils to prevent and relieve homelessness.

Councils are now required to provide homelessness assistance to anyone referred to them who has the right to reside but is vulnerably housed. Prisons, hospitals and job centres now have a duty to refer those at risk.

According to The Guardian, the number of those in temporary accommodation have risen by 60% since 2011, and the number of those sleeping rough has risen by 169% since 2010. This act is an attempt at “breaking the homelessness cycle” according to communities secretary, Sajid David.

£72 million has been set aside for councils to hire extra staff to cope with the demand for homelessness assistance. However, local councils fear that this does nothing to confront the underlying factors driving homelessness such as lack of affordable housing, benefits cuts and insecure private tenancies.

The Shelter blog reports that the act should see an end to people being turned away from local councils for being deemed “not vulnerable enough” or “having caused their own homelessness” as councils are now required to find everyone a new home.

Key changes that the Homelessness Reduction act will introduce include:

  • Local councils must provide free advice and information, tailored towards an individual’s circumstances
  • The definition “threatened with homelessness” has now changed to mean anyone who is likely to lose their home within 58 days, when before it was 28 days. This means councils must step in sooner to prevent someone from losing their home.
  • Councils must help you regardless of whether you are a ‘priority need’
  • If you are currently homeless then the council must provide you with a ‘relief duty’, and if you are at risk of losing your home they must provide a ‘prevention duty’ – both last for 58 days
  • Relief duties may include temporary housing
  • Personalised plans are being introduced, which involve interviews with anyone at risk to assess what steps both the council and the vulnerably housed person need to take

Key things for volunteers and charities to know:

Both relief and prevention duties last 58 days, if a person is still homeless or vulnerably housed at the end of this time the council will decide if they ‘meet the criteria for temporary housing and settled accommodation’. Those who do not meet the criteria are still at risk and need support.

If a vulnerably housed person ‘has deliberately and unreasonably refused’ to cooperate with the personal plan outlined by the local council, then any prevention and relief duties can be ended by the local authorities, after a relevant warning and notice period has been given.

The act still faces some issues:

The London borough of Southwark has been testing the new act for the past year, where the number of temporarily housed people has been halved. Although, those threatened with homelessness were often only granted homes many miles away from their original residence.

Local councils are still facing drastic funding cuts, and the Local government association’s housing spokesperson Martin Tett has said “Local authorities are currently having to house the equivalent of an average secondary school’s worth of homeless children every month. While they are doing all they can to help families facing homelessness, it’s essential that the new act’s duties on councils are fully funded.”