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Assessments of need

This content applies to England

Where the local authority is satisfied that an applicant is eligible and either homeless or threatened with homelessness, it must assess her/his needs.

A local authority must draw up a 'personalised housing plan' based on the assessment. This plan identifies steps necessary to prevent or relieve homelessness.[1]

This duty only applies to homelessness applications made on or after 3 April 2018.

Content of assessment

There is some discretion for local authorities to decide exactly what the assessment should include, but certain matters must always be considered:[2]

  • the circumstances which led to homelessness or threatened homelessness
  • the housing needs of the applicant
  • what support would be necessary for the applicant and his/her household to have and retain suitable accommodation.

Circumstances which led to homelessness

The Homelessness Code of Guidance suggests that local authorities will want to ask about an applicant's accommodation history at least as far back as her/his last settled address and the events which led to her/his current homelessness or threatened homelessness.[3]

Housing needs

An assessment of the housing needs of the applicant will include consideration of what accommodation would be suitable for her/him and for each member of her/his household.[4] The Code recommends looking at:[5]

  • the size and type of accommodation required
  • any specific requirements for a household containing a disabled person or person with medical needs
  • location of accommodation

The wishes and preferences of the applicant should be 'considered and recorded' even if the local authority thinks that these cannot reasonably be met.[6]

Support necessary in accommodation

Examples of specific support needs which local authorities should consider are not listed. However, the Code stresses the need for a 'holistic and comprehensive' assessment which focuses on more than just those needs of which the local authority have already been informed.[7] The breadth of the assessment envisaged is illustrated by the recognition in the Code that assessment might lead to identification of care and support needs which the housing authority cannot meet.[8]

Manner of assessment

The Code is clear that assessments of needs will require more than an online process.[9] There will need to be an 'individual and interactive' process which will usually require a face-to-face interview. If this is not possible (for example because the applicant is in prison or hospital) then a telephone or video-link interview could be used, or a partner agency could gather and provide the information required.[10]

The Code gives recommendations as to the approach of the local authority during the interview. It suggests that authorities:[11]

  • encourage applicants to share information 'without fear that this will reduce their chances of receiving support'
  • ask questions in a sensitive way with an awareness that applicants 'may be reluctant to disclose personal details if they lack confidence that their circumstances will be understood and considered sympathetically'
  • ensure that staff are trained in assessing people who may find it difficult to disclose their circumstances - who may, for example be at risk of domestic abuse or hate crime
  • 'adopt assessment tools' to assist staff in identifying needs without appearing to take a 'checklist' approach.

Assessing particular groups

If an applicant is a care leaver, the her/his personal adviser should be involved in the assessment process with her/his consent.[12]

Where the applicant has experienced violence or abuse or subject to trafficking or modern slavery, the Code suggests that s/he be offered the option of an interview with an officer of the same sex.[13]

Informing the applicant of the assessment

Once the assessment has been made, notification must be given to the applicant.[14] The Code suggests that this is provided together with the personalised housing plan in relation to which the assessment has been completed.[15]

Initial and full assessments

The Code of Guidance suggests that when an applicant approaches the authority as homeless or threatened with homeless, there should first be an initial assessment of whether s/he is homeless or threatened with homelessness and eligible.[16] See Inquiry duty for more detail.

Once it has been established that the applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness and eligible, then it should carry out a assessment as described above.[17]

No local connection

If an authority is satisfied that an applicant is threatened with homelessness and eligible, it must complete an assessment of need even if the applicant has no local connection.[18]

If applicant is actually homeless and eligible but has no local connection, the authority applied to should carry out an assessment at least until the applicant is informed that a referral may be made and arguably after.[19] See referrals: relief duty stage for more information.

'Satisfaction' criterion

The requirement that a local authority is 'satisfied' that the applicant is homeless and eligible is stricter than the 'reason to believe' threshold used in relation to the interim duty to accommodate. The Code suggests that the local authority should issue a s.184 decision letter at an early stage if the applicant is found to be not homeless or threatened with homelessness, or not eligible.[20] Therefore, where there is reason to believe that an applicant is homeless, advisers may wish to treat an assessment duty as engaged unless there is a negative s.184 decision.

Interaction with other duties

Prevention and relief duty

The duty to assess need arises at the same time as the homelessness prevention duty or the relief duty The assessment will determine the steps in a personalised housing plan which guides how prevention and relief are practised. However, the Code of Guidance specifically states that where necessary the local authority should carry out prevention or relief based on the information already to hand in parallel with continued assessment and planning.[21] The completed assessment will need to take the work already done into account.[22]

Interim duty

If there is reason to believe the applicant may be homeless, eligible and have a priority need, then an interim accommodation duty will be owed.[23]

If a person is owed an assessment duty because they are threatened with homelessness and eligible, they will not meet the definition of 'homeless', so there will not be an interim duty. However, there is a power to provide accommodation for people who are threatened with homelessness.[24]

Duties of other local authority departments

Authorities should be 'mindful of duties under the Care Act 2014', including the duty to assess, and the powers of social services to meet urgent care and support needs before completing an assessment.[25] It may be, therefore, that whether the applicant is threatened with homelessness or actually homeless, a referral is made to social services during the assessment stage of the application.

Keeping assessments under review

The authority must keep the assessment under review until no further homelessness duties are owed.[26] This means that it will continue until prevention and relief duties and any duties owed to people who may be in priority need, end. The Code suggests that if any new information comes to light which is relevant to the assessment made, this should trigger a review.[27]

In addition, a review of the assessment should be made if the applicant:

  • was previously threatened with homelessness and becomes homeless[28]
  • is seen not to be cooperating with the steps set out by the authority[29]

Applicants should be informed in writing if the assessment has changed as a result.[30]

Challenging the assessment

The legislation does not give any formal way of challenging the assessment of housing need made by a local authority, so any challenges would need to be by way of judicial review.

Referrals to other authorities

Where an applicant is referred to another authority at relief duty stage, the referring authority should provide the assessment and notification of any changes which have arisen from review to the receiving authority.[31]

[1] s.189A Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[2] s.189A(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[3] para 11.8, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[4] s.189A(2)(b) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[5] para 11.10, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[6] para 11.10, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[7] para 11.11, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[8] para 11.12, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[9] para 11.13, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[10] para 11.13 and para 11.14, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[11] para 11.9 and para 11.11, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[12] para 22.13 and para 22.14, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MCHLG, Feb 2018.

[13] para 21.23 and para 25.15, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MCHLG, Feb 2018.

[14] s.189A(3) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3, Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[15] para 11.24, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[16] para 11.3, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[17] s.189A(1), Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017; para 11.7, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[18] Compare s.195, Housing Act 1996 as substituted by s.4(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 with s.189B (and specifically s.189B(2)), Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.198(1) Housing Act 1996. See also para 11.28, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[19] s.189A Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.199A, Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(9), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[20] para 11.3, Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[21] para 11.25 Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[22] para 11.26,Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, October 2017.

[23] s.188(1) Housing Act 1996.

[24] s.205(3) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.6 Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. See also para 15.34 and para 16.4 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[25] para 11.12, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018. The assessment duty is in s.9, Care Act 2014; the duty to meet needs in s.18, Care Act 2014 and the power to meet urgent needs before an completing assessment is in s.19(3) Care Act 2014.

[26] s.189A(9)(a) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3, Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[27] para 11.33, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[28] para 14.22, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[29] para 14.50, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[30] s.189A(10) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[31] s.199A(5)(d) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(9), Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

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