The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) 2017 came in to effect last week on 3rd April 2018 with the force of a galactic scaled Easter egg filled with the Government’s hopes of solving the housing crisis. Bob Blackman MP for Harrow East, who introduced the bill, envisaged it would be “a comprehensive change to the law which will shift the emphasis firmly towards preventing homelessness from ever occurring in the first place” (https://bit.ly/2qfjtRt), no big deal then.
With the new Act comes a vacant landscape devoid of any case law concerning the new duties for housing law practitioners to advise their clients from but also the exciting prospect of a blank slate.
The headline grabbing changes are an increase in the period of time local authorities must treat applicants as threatened with homelessness and a complimentary plethora of potential new duties that local authorities could owe applicants.
Threatened with Homelessness: Expanded Definition
Applicants will now be considered threatened with homelessness up to 56 days before they are actually made homeless as opposed to 28 days under the old law. This time period can even be longer in some cases, where a s.21 Notice has been served. This is intended to get Councils involved and to help potentially homeless applicant(s) much sooner than in the past rather than being told to return for help after a Possession Order has been issued. This is positive news and should go some way to avoiding people becoming homeless and on the street.
What are Councils going to be doing now that they have to take homeless applications from people much sooner? Well, local authorities have new duties that could be triggered in the life cycle of an application which entitle applicants to receive new forms of help and assistance. We have a new prevention duty and a relief duty as well as a number of lesser changes. I will not be going in to the lesser changes here except to say that although they are not as ground breaking as the brand new duties discussed below they will give rise to subtle new considerations that we might discuss in a future blog post.
The Prevention Duty
The Prevention Duty is where local authorities must take reasonable steps to help applicants (who it is satisfied are eligible and threatened with homelessness) to secure that accommodation does not cease to become available. This means that local authorities will now have to actively take steps to prevent applicants from losing their existing accommodation. This duty is obviously only meaningfully available to those who have not already lost their accommodation and the duty comes to end if the applicant is able to stay in their existing accommodation.
The duty can also come to an end if the applicant rejects an offer of suitable accommodation or in a number of other prescribed ways so applicants should stay wary of rejecting offers and seek legal advice if they are inclined to reject any offer of accommodation.
The Relief Duty
The Relief Duty applies to those applicants who are eligible and already homeless unless the applicant is referred to another authority. The Relief Duty requires local authorities to take reasonable steps to help applicants to secure suitable accommodation becomes available for their occupation for at least 6 months. This duty lasts for 56 days from the local authority being approached and can also be brought to an end in a variety of ways.
We will be keeping a close eye on how these new duties are applied and develop. As always, we will endeavour to ensure that our client’s needs are being met and local authorities are held to account if they fall short of fulfilling their duties.
This blog has been prepared by Sayim Rezvi, a Paralegal at MTG Solicitors, on 9th April 2018.