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Homelessness inquiries

This content applies to England

An explanation of local authority duty to carry out inquiries in response to a homelessness application .

Overview of duty

When a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness it must make inquiries as to:[1]

If the applicant does not have a local connection with the authority applied to, it may also make inquiries to see whether the applicant has a local connection with another housing authority in England, Wales or Scotland.[2] The local authority applied to may refer the applicant to a local authority where s/he has a local connection at relief duty or main housing duty stage, provided the conditions for referral are met.

Find details of local authorities on Gov.uk.

Initial inquiries

Every person who applies for homelessness assistance stating that they are or are going to be homeless should be given an initial interview.[3] If there is reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, the authority must determine whether this is in fact the case. If the applicant is either not eligible, or not homeless or threatened with homelessness, the authority must provide a written notification of this decision.[4]

Applicants should not be 'screened out' of more detailed inquiries by an initial interview that does not adequately investigate the applicant's situation.[5] For example, holding only a brief initial interview when an applicant has presented a GP report mentioning an asylum seeking background and various mental health problems has been held to be unlawful.[6] The interview should be of sufficient length to allow adequate inquiries to be made. A 10-minute interview has been held to be inadequate to establish the cause of a family breakdown.[7]

All inquiries should be carried out with humanity and care.[8]

Scope of inquiries

The scope of the inquiries that are needed before a decision can be made are those that are necessary to 'satisfy' the local authority that the applicant is owed a duty.[9]

Failure to make adequate or sufficient inquiries is a common reason for decisions being quashed by the courts.[10] Authorities are not obliged to make all inquiries necessary to establish the full background of the case. However, they can be challenged if they fail to make an inquiry that no reasonable authority could fail to regard as necessary.[11]

Examples of inadequate inquiries include failure to properly investigate a medical condition that might mean the applicant is in priority need.[12] In a case where mental health issues arose from the historic mistreatment of a former asylum seeker, there was an expectation that the local authority's inquiries may involve consulting with the applicant's current and former medical advisers and the relevant mental health services, and seeking a psychiatric report. They might also extend to a detailed inquiry into the applicant's pre-homelessness way of life. The inquiries should also seek details of the applicant's asylum case and the psychiatric assessment and treatment he had previously received as well as the reasons his tenancy had been terminated.[13]

Inquiries need to be detailed but not as extensive as 'CID-type inquiries'.[14] Authorities need not handle their inquiries as if the issues were being considered by a court of law but should act reasonably on responsible evidence, from reasonable and reliable people.[15]

Authorities must not make assumptions about important issues.[16] For example, when an applicant has given up accommodation the authority must not assume that it was available and reasonable to continue to occupy solely because the applicant has not explicitly stated that it was not. [17] However, where an authority fails to make inquiries about an issue that it has no reason to believe is relevant, it would be difficult to criticise its decision.[18] It is therefore very important that advisers ensure that the authority is aware of all relevant matters.

In order to assess the evidence before it the authority may have to seek relevant advice,[19] which should be sought from the most appropriate sources.[20]

Burden of inquiries

The duty to make inquiries rests with the local authority. Although the applicant will have to provide some information to the local authority to suggest that there is reason to believe that s/he is homeless or threatened with homelessness, the burden of proof rests with the authority.[21]

In carrying out its duty to make inquiries the authority can request assistance from another housing authority, new town corporation, social services authority, registered social landlord or housing action trust which must co-operate with the request so far as it is reasonable in the circumstances.[22]

Right to make representations

The applicant must be given an opportunity to make representations and challenge the authority's findings.[23] The failure to put basic issues to the applicant could result in the authority missing out on relevant information.[24]

Public sector equality duty

The public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 complements the duties under Part 7 Housing Act 1996.

At each stage of the decision-making process, authorities are required to have the equality duty in mind and focus very sharply on whether an applicant has an actual or probable disability, or other protected characteristic, which need enhanced consideration. Where an applicant has a protected characteristic, inquiries must be even more careful, and fuller reasons must be given for a negative decision.[25]

It is for the authority to decide, as a matter of fact and on the evidence advanced by the applicant or otherwise available to it, if there is a real possibility that the applicant or any member of her/his household has a disability or other protected characteristic which requires further enhanced inquiries.[26]

For more information about protected characteristics see Equality law.

Violence

Guidance on inquiries where there is or may be domestic abuse can be found in chapter 21 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance.[27] The following points are made:

  • inquiries where violence is alleged need careful handling and it is not advisable for the housing authority to approach the alleged perpetrator
  • authorities may wish to seek information from friends, relatives, social services, and/or the police as appropriate. However, in some cases, corroborating evidence of violence may not be available, because there were no witnesses to the violence, or the applicant was too ashamed to tell others about it. Authorities should not have a blanket approach of requiring corroborative or police evidence to be provided
  • in cases involving violence, authorities should recognise that the applicant may be in considerable distress and should ensure that an officer trained in dealing with people who have suffered violence conducts the interview. Applicants should also be given the option of being interviewed by an officer of the same sex
  • staff and managers may require specialist training so that they can provide a sensitive response and identify appropriate housing options.

Repeat applications

There is no statutory limit on the number of homelessness applications that an individual can make to a local authority, but an applicant cannot make a further application based on exactly the same facts as her/his earlier application. Where a subsequent application appears to reveal new facts, neither trivial or fanciful, the authority must treat the subsequent application as a fresh one and carry out the statutory inquiries - the authority is not entitled to investigate the accuracy of the alleged new facts before deciding whether to treat the new application as valid or not, even if there are reasons to suspect the accuracy of the allegations.[28]

If an authority refuses to accept a repeat application from an applicant, the only remedy available against that refusal will be by way of judicial review.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references on this page are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

[1] s.184(1) Housing Act 1996.

[2] s.184(2) Housing Act 1996.

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

[4] s.184(3) Housing Act 1996; para 11.3 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[5] R (on the application of IA) v City of Westminster LBC [2013] EWHC 1273 (Admin).

[6] R (on the application of IA) v City of Westminster LBC [2013] EWHC 1273 (Admin).R

[7] v Dacorum BC ex parte Brown (1989) 21 HLR 405, QBD.

[8] R v Dacorum BC ex parte Brown (1989) 21 HLR 405, QBD.

[9] s.184(1) Housing Act 1996.

[10] R v Camden LBC ex parte Cosmo (1997) 30 HLR 817, QBD; R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex parte Bibi (1991) 23 HLR 500, QBD; R v Westminster CC ex parte Iqbal (1988) 22 HLR 215, QBD.

[11] R v Nottingham CC ex parte Costello (1989) 21 HLR 301, QBD.

[12] R v Newham LBC ex parte Lumley (2001) 33 HLR 124, QBD.

[13] R (on the application of IA) v City of Westminster LBC [2013] EWHC 1273 (Admin).

[14] Lally v Kensington and Chelsea RBC (1980) The Times 26 March, ChD; R v Gravesham BC ex parte Winchester (1986) 18 HLR 207, QBD.

[15] R v Southampton CC ex parte Ward (1984)14 HLR 114, QBD.

[16] R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex parte Rouf (1989) 21 HLR 294, QBD.

[17] R v Reigate and Banstead DC ex parte Paris (1984) 17 HLR 103, QBD.

[18] R v Southampton CC ex parte Ward (1984) 14 HLR 114, QBD.

[19] R v Bath CC ex parte Sangernamo (1984) 17 HLR 94, QBD.

[20] R v Lambeth LBC ex parte Carroll (1987) 20 HLR 142, QBD.

[21] Bellouti v Wandsworth LBC [2005] EWCA Civ 602; Hawa Abdullah Ali v Newham LBC, [2000] Bow CC, Legal Action November 2000; R v Woodspring DC ex parte Walters (1984) 16 HLR 73 QBD.

[22] s.213 Housing Act 1996.

[23] R v Newham LBC ex parte Lumley (2001) 33 HLR 124, QBD; R v Ealing LBC ex parte Chanter [1992] December 1992 Legal Action 22.

[24] R v Wyre BC ex parte Joyce (1983) 11 HLR 73, QBD.

[25] Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30; Pieretti v Enfield LBC [2010] EWCA Civ 1104.

[26] Birmingham CC v Wilson [2016] EWCA Civ 1137.

[27] para 21.9, para 21.21 and para 21.23 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[28] R v Harrow LBC ex p Fahia [1998] 1 WLR 1396, HL; Tower Hamlets LBC v Begum [2005] EWCA Civ 340; R (on the application of Griffin) v Southwark LBC [2004] EWHC 2463 (Admin); R (on the application of Hoyte) v Southwark LBC [2016] EWHC 1665 (Admin).

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