On 3rd April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is enstated into UK Law. But what does it all mean?
Homelessness in the UK is on the increase with figures showing 4,751 people sleeping rough in autumn 2017, an increase of 15% from 2016.
Bob Blackman MP began the private member’s bill, now formerly known as the Homelessness Reduction Act, in 2016 with the aim of ensuring more support and preventative measures are taken to reduce homelessness in the UK. The private members bill was supported and worked on by a group of MPs, including former Portsmouth South MP, Flick Drummond.
Since the bill’s beginning in 2016 and after many consultations and hearings at the committee, House of Commons and House of Lords, the bill finally became an Act of Law in 2017 with it coming into force in 2018.
So, what does it all mean?
The Homelessness Reduction Act has changed the way Local Authorities now deal with people who are homeless and are at risk of becoming homeless.
Risk of becoming homeless – the period deemed to evaluate someone’s risk of becoming homeless was a mere 28 days, baring in mind housing options services only operate Monday – Friday in most Local Authorities, this meant risk had to be assessed and advice is given accordingly within 20 working days at most.
This has now been extended to 56 days, allowing local authorities more time to assess, advice and implement prevention measures to reduce somebody’s risk of becoming homeless.
Duty to provide advisory services – Local Authorities are now required to provide free, informative services to everyone within their respective area. Portsmouth, for example, this would be everyone living on Portsea Island and those living in Cosham, Farlington, Drayton and Portchester.
The information needed to be provided includes advice on preventing homelessness, securing accommodation if homeless, the rights of people who are homeless or threatened by homelessness as well as any help that is available to someone who is at risk of or is registered homeless as well as how to access that help.
This advice service should be designed to reach out to groups of people thought to be more at risk of homelessness, such as people leaving prison; care leavers; people who have left the Defence Services (Army, Royal Marines, RAF, Navy); domestic abuse victims; people suffering from mental health illnesses.
New Duties – in the past Local Authorities have assessed people and given help based on ‘priority need’ (see figure 1) with those having priority need having accommodation secured for them. The non-priority need is only, usually, given advice and assistance to find accommodation.
However, the new law obliges Local Authorities to provide more meaningful assistance to those who are homeless and threatened with homelessness regardless of if they are a priority or not. The priority need will still stand as the procedure.
Agree on a plan – the new framework means that needs assessments have to be carried out to ensure a suitable and sensible plan meets the need of the individual person. Elements of the assessment include why the person became homeless and what support they need in their home if any.
This plan will ensure that accommodation can be secured and retained by the person according to their needs.
Prevention – This has been mentioned previously in this article but the prevention period has increased to 56 days from 28. The Local Authority then must take reasonable steps to prevent the person from becoming homeless.
Failure to comply – Some people who find themselves homeless find it hard to interact and ‘jump through the necessary hoops’ in order to gain help and advice. The new law does have a term on which ‘Failure to Comply’ is dealt with. Failing to comply should be seen as ‘deliberately and unreasonably refusing’ to comply with the personal plan set out at the assessment stage.
Failing to comply would result in relief and prevention duties being limited to securing accommodation for a temporary period until eligibility for assistance ceases; the person becomes homeless intentionally leaving accommodation made available to them; accepts an offer of assured tenancy from a private landlord; accepts or refuses a ‘final’ offer of accommodation.
When deciding if someone has deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate with the Local Authority, they must take into account the circumstances and needs of the individual.
Carers Leave – anyone under the age of 21 will be deemed to have a local connection with the area if they were cared for, fostered or accommodated within the local area for a period of at least 2 years.
This new legislation that has come into force does have the main aim of providing a framework for Local Authorities when dealing with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness for whatever reason.
For the legislation to be effective within the local area, Local Authorities should ideally seek to work with all organisations who interact and work with the homeless community as well as the organisations that work with those who are at risk of becoming homeless.
*All information in this article is that interpreted from the legislation by Helping Hands Portsmouth. Details of the official legislative act can be found here.