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Deliberate and unreasonable refusals to cooperate

This content applies to England

Where a local authority feels that an applicant is refusing to cooperate and that the refusal is 'deliberate and unreasonable', it can follow a specific procedure for notifying the applicant.

The information on this page applies only to homelessness applications made on or after 3 April 2018.

What is a refusal to cooperate

An applicant refuses to cooperate when s/he does not take a step (or steps) in her/his personalised housing plan (PHP).[1] This might be a step which:

  • the applicant agreed to
  • the authority identified as a step which the applicant was required to take.

In order for the applicant to be penalised, the refusal must have been deliberate and unreasonable.

An applicant cannot be found not to have cooperated with a step which was identified as a 'good idea' in her/his plan, but which s/he was not was required to take.[2]

See Personalised housing plans: applicant steps for more information.

Determining a deliberate and unreasonable refusal

Neither 'deliberate' nor 'unreasonable' is defined in the Act or in the Homelessness Code of Guidance. The Code suggests that a local authority follows a four stage determination to decide whether a failure to take a step was deliberate and unreasonable:[3]

  • were the steps in the PHP reasonable in the context of the applicant's circumstances and needs?
  • did the applicant understand what is required of them, so that the refusal can be judged deliberate?
  • did the applicant fail to take steps because of a difficulty in communicating or a health need for which they did not have support?
  • was the refusal 'deliberate and unreasonable in the context of their particular circumstances and needs'?

Steps must be reasonable

The Code suggests that where an applicant appears not to be cooperating, the local authority should review its assessment of her/his needs and the appropriateness of the steps in the personalised housing plan.[4] It may be found that certain steps in the PHP are not reasonable, or have become unreasonable. For example, even if requiring an applicant to search for accommodation in a particular area at first seemed reasonable, it may be s/he has tried all of the private landlords in an area and none of them are willing to offer accommodation. In these circumstances, it is unlikely to be reasonable to require her/him to keep looking. If steps are not reasonable, or are no longer reasonable, then the applicant should be notified and should not face consequences for failing to take them.[5]

Applicant must understand what is required of them

It may emerge during the authority's investigations (see below) that the applicant did not understand one of the steps in the plan (perhaps because of a language difficulty) and if so, s/he should not be found to have deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate.[6]

Applicant must not be failing to cooperate because of communication or health difficulties

The Code requires that local authorities take into account any particular difficulties the applicant has in managing communication. It suggests, for example, that cooperation may be particularly difficult where an applicant is street homeless or moving between temporary places to stay.[7] The problems may be around, for example, an applicant having a learning disability or more practical issues such as being required to contact landlords and not having telephone access. In circumstances such as these, it is less likely that failing to cooperate would be counted as deliberate or unreasonable.

In terms of health difficulties, the Code refers to applicants having a 'mental health illness or other health need, for which they are not being provided with support'.[8] Steps in personalised housing plans may include conditions that an applicant accepts support from health workers and applicants should be advised to do so if possible. However, where there are good reasons that an applicant cannot receive such support, or if the support is not adequate to enable her/him to take the steps required, this may provide a defence against a charge of 'deliberate and unreasonable' failure to cooperate.

Deliberate and unreasonable in the context of particular circumstances and needs

An authority 'must have regard to the particular circumstances and needs of the applicant' - even if these have not been identified in the assessment of need.[9] Some factors may be related to health or other difficulties of the applicant, but others may be much more context dependant. The Code gives the example of a person who prioritises attending a Jobcentre or medical appointment, or fulfilling a caring responsibility above attending a property viewing and states that this is unlikely to be deliberate.[10]

Investigations into refusals to cooperate

An authority should seek to understand the reasons for any lack of co-operation before taking action and during any action related to deliberate and unreasonable refusal.[11] It should also liaise with other services who may be providing support, such as a family support service or offender management service to seek to involve them in the process and to encourage the applicant to cooperate.[12] Where the applicant is a care leaver, the Code also suggests that joint working 'to understand mitigating factors and resolve issues should continue throughout any action'.[13]

Procedure in cases of non cooperation

Where an authority considers that an applicant has deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate it must:

  • serve a 'relevant warning' on the applicant[14]
  • allow a 'reasonable period' to rectify non cooperation[15]
  • (where non cooperation continues) serve notice of deliberate and unreasonable refusal.[16]

Where the applicant has been referred at referred at relief duty stage, these steps may be followed by either the original or the receiving authority.

Relevant warning

A relevant warning is a notice which:[17]

  • is served after the applicant deliberately and unreasonably refuses to take a step they have agreed to, or which has been required of the applicant
  • warns the applicant that if s/he does not take such a step after receiving the notice the authority will give a further notice
  • explains the consequences of such a notice.

The warning should be given in writing, and if it is not received by the applicant must be made available at the local authority's office for collection 'for a reasonable period'.[18]

Reasonable period to rectify non cooperation

Once a relevant warning has been given to the applicant, the local authority cannot take further action until a 'reasonable period' has elapsed. The purpose of this is to give the applicant a chance to rectify non cooperation and prevent a further notice being served.[19]

The length of the reasonable period is not defined, and the Code suggests that it will 'vary according to the particular needs and circumstances of the applicant'.[20] The authority should spell out what it considers to be a reasonable period in the applicant's case - any challenge would have to be by way of judicial review. If the applicant takes the steps required within the time allowed, then the authority should not take further action.

Notice of deliberate and unreasonable refusal to cooperate

Where the applicant continues not to take the steps in her/his PHP, the local authority can serve a notice of deliberate and unreasonable refusal to cooperate.

Local authorities should have a policy on when and how these notices are served which should be kept under review.[21] In any case, decision to serve the notice must be:[22]

  • made by a housing officer in the authority (this function cannot be outsourced even to a different department within the authority)
  • approved by a person who works within the authority, has at least equal seniority to the officer making the decision to serve notice and was not involved in the decision to serve notice.

The Code suggests that approval of the decision to serve notice might be given by a person in a different department or even, in two tier authorities, at the county council. As an example, it states that in the case of a care leaver, the person authorising a housing officer's decision might be an officer of at least equivalent seniority within children's services.[23]

The person authorising the decision to serve notice should look especially closely at whether the decision to serve notice had regard to the circumstances and needs of the applicant (even if these were not identified in the assessment of need).[24]

Information in notice

The notice should:[25]

  • explain why the notice is being given
  • inform the applicant that s/he has a right to request a review within 21 days of the notice being served.

Effect of notice in cases of non cooperation

Where the notice is served at:

prevention stage: This will end the prevention duty.[26] However, if the applicant actually becomes homeless, the relief duty will apply.[27] Ending the prevention duty on grounds of non cooperation will not affect any accommodation duties to the client (eg, interim duty), if s/he becomes homeless.[28]

relief stage: This will end the relief duty.[29] Where the applicant is in priority need and not intentionally homeless, the main housing duty will not apply and will be replaced by a less advantageous accommodation duty.[30] Since referrals can only be made at relief stage or when main housing duty is owed, this will also stop the authority making a referral to a second area.

See also accommodation duty in cases of non cooperation.

Right to request a review

There is no statutory right to review a decision to serve a 'relevant warning'. However, applicants can request a review of the decision to serve the notice ending the prevention or relief duty within 21 days of notification.[31] See Internal reviews for more detail.

[1] s.193B(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[2] s.193B(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and para 11.31, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[3] para 14.53, Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[4] para 11.33 and para 14.50 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[5] para 11.34 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[6] para 14.53 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[7] para 14.52 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[8] para 14.53 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[9] s.193B(6) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[10] para 14.53 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[11] para 14.50 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018

[12] para 14.51 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[13] para 22.16 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[14] s.193B(4)(a) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[15] s.193B(4)(b) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[16] s.193B(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[17] s.193B(5) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[18] s.193B(8) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and para 14.44.

[19] para 14.44 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[20] para 14.44 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[21] reg 2 Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/223.

[22] regs 2 and 3 Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/223.

[23] para 14.58 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[24] para 14.59 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[25] s.193B(3) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.202(3) Housing Act 1996.

[26] s.195(10) Housing Act 1996 as substituted by s.4(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.193C(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[27] s.195C(2) and para 14.47 Homelessness Code of Guidance 2018.

[28] s.195C(2) and para 14.47 Homelessness Code of Guidance 2018.

[29] s.189B(9)(b) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.193C(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017..

[30] s.193C(3) and s.193C(4) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[31] s.202(1)(bb) and s.202(3) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.9(2)(b) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

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