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Conditions for referral

This content applies to England

When an applicant can be referred to another local authority.

Stages when referral can be made

An applicant can apply to any local authority s/he wishes. It is unlawful for an authority to refuse to accept an application on grounds that the applicant has no local connection with it.

Where a homelessness application has been made on or after 3 April 2018, there are two stages at which the authority can make a referral:

For applications made before 3 April 2018, see below.

The duty to assess an applicant's case and agree a personalised housing plan cannot be referred to another local authority.

The decision to make enquiries into an applicant's local connection is discretionary.[1]

A local authority does not have to refer an applicant with no local connection to another authority with which s/he has a local connection even if that is the express wish of the applicant.[2]

Conditions for referral

A local authority can refer an applicant to another local authority where one of the following three conditions for referral are met:[3]

  • on the basis of local connection
  • up to five years after an out of borough placement
  • in the two years after a private rented sector offer.

Where one of three conditions for referral are met the local authority has the discretion whether or not to refer. The Code of Guidance advises that a local authority must not have a policy that extends to deciding in advance that in all cases where it can refer it will do so.[4]

Referrals: local connection

A referral on the basis of local connection can be made where the applicant or any person who might reasonably be expect to reside with her/him:[5]

  • has no local connection with the local authority to which the application was made
  • has a local connection with the other local authority
  • will not be at risk of violence in the other authority’s area.

See local connection for the ways in which local connection can be established.

Referrals: out of borough placements

Where a local authority placed an applicant in a second authority's area under a homelessness duty and the applicant subsequently makes a homelessness application to the second authority within five years of the placement, the second authority can refer the applicant back to the original authority.[6]

A referral can be made even if there is a risk of violence in the area of the first local authority. However, a local, authority should take this account in exercising its discretion whether to refer to the second authority. Where a referral is made it will then be the responsibility of the first authority to ensure that any accommodation it secures will be suitable for the applicant.

Referrals: private rented sector offer

An applicant who reapplies as homeless to a second authority within two years of having accepted a private rented sector (PRS) offer (in discharge of the local authority's main housing duty) can be referred back to the first authority (who made the original PRS offer) if there is a no risk of violence in its area.[7] There is no requirement that the PRS accommodation was within the second authority’s area.

Definition of 'violence'

An applicant cannot be referred to a second authority under the local connection rules or on reapplication after private sector offer if s/he (or any person who might reasonably be expect to reside with her/him) would be at risk of violence in the second authority’s area.[8]

’Violence’ is defined as:[9]

  • violence from another person (whether domestic violence or other)
  • threats of violence which are likely to be carried out.

Domestic violence should not be restricted to physical violence and can include threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, whether it be psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.[10]

The Code of Guidance states that domestic violence is any ‘incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse’. This can be psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional. Controlling behaviour is ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and or dependent’. Coercive behaviour covers acts used to harm, punish or frighten.[11]

The Code adds that ‘violence’ in general should not be given a restrictive meaning.[12]

Local connection in two or more areas

Under local connection rules, a referral cannot be made if the applicant has a local connection with the area to which an application is made, even if her/his links with a second authority’s area are ‘stronger’. If there is no connection with the area in which the application was made, but there is a local connection with more than one other authority, then the strength of any links, along with the applicant's preference, should be taken into account when deciding to which authority to refer the applicant.[13]

Note that the prohibition on referral where an applicant has a local connection to the first authority only applies where a referral is made on the basis of local connection. So where an applicant has a local connection in the area s/he applies, s/he can still be referred to an authority which:[14]

  • placed her/him in the first authority under a homelessness duty less than five years previously, or
  • within the previous two years made her/him a private sector offer in the first authority, which the applicant accepted.

Cross-border referrals

At the main duty stage a referral can made:[15]

  • under the local connection rules, to a local authority in England, Scotland or Wales
  • when the out of borough placement or private rented sector offer conditions are met, to a local authority in England only (the required conditions cannot be met under the legislation governing Scottish or Welsh homelessness applications).

At the relief duty stage a referral can only be made to a local authority in England.[16]

Local authority guidelines

The question whether the conditions for referral are met should be decided by agreement between the notifying authority and the notified authority.[17]

When a local authority makes a decision about local connection, it can refer to the guidelines set out in the 'Procedures for referrals of homeless applicants to another local authority' (commonly known as the Local Authority Agreement), which has been updated to take account of the changes introduced by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The purpose of the guidelines is to avoid, and where necessary resolve, disputes between local authorities. The guidelines also stress that the agreement between various local authorities does not replace the duty of such authorities to treat each case on its merits.[18]

Applications made before 3 April 2018

For applications made before 3 April 2018, referrals can only be made at the stage of main housing duty.

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(2) Housing Act 1996

[2] Hackney LBC v Sareen [2003] EWCA Civ 351.

[3] s.198 Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.4(5) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[4] s.198(1) Housing Act 1996; R v East Devon DC ex parte Robb (1997) 30 HLR 92, QBD; para 10.32 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[5] s.198(2) Housing Act 1996.

[6] s.198(4) Housing Act 1996; Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/2527.

[7] s.198(2ZA) Housing Act 1996, as inserted by s.149(6) Localism Act 2011.

[8] s.198(2) and (2ZA) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.149(6) Localism Act 2011.

[9] s.198 (3) Housing Act 1996.

[10] Yemshaw v Hounslow LBC [2011] UKSC 3.

[11] paras 21.2 to 21.9 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[12] para 21.19 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[13] para 4.5 Draft Local Authority Agreement, Local Government Association; R v Eastleigh BC Betts [1983] 2 AC 613, HL.

[14] s.198(2ZA) and (4) Housing Act 1996.

[15] ss.198 and 201 Housing Act 1996.

[16] s.198(A1) Housing Act 1996 inserted by s.5(8) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017; para 10.37 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[17] s.198(5A) Housing Act 1996.

[18] paras 1.4 and 1.5 Procedures for referrals of homeless applicants to another local authority, Local Government Association, 2018; R v Eastleigh BC Betts [1983] 2 AC 613, HL.

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