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Wales: applications and duty to assess

This content applies to Wales

The duty to assess an applicant and procedural requirements of the assessment under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

This page deals with homelessness applications made to local authorities in Wales on or after 27 April 2015. Applications made before that date will be governed by Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 until any duty is discharged or ended.

Making a homelessness application

Homelessness applicants do not need to explicitly request assistance under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. An application can be made:

  • by anyone aged 16 or over
  • to any department of the local authority
  • in any form (for example in person, by phone, in writing).

Ideally, homelessness applications should be made by the applicant, but they can also be made on her/his behalf by professionals, relatives, or friends.[1]

Applicants do not need to wait until they are homeless before making a homelessness application. It is envisaged that most applicants will be threatened with homelessness when they apply for help, rather than actually homeless. The assumption is that most applicants will be assisted at this stage, so it is vital that authorities engage proactively with people at risk of homelessness, and seek to identify them as early as possible.[2]

Triggering the assessment duty

The duty to assess is triggered when:[3]

  • an applicant has applied to the local authority for accommodation, or help in retaining or obtaining accommodation, and
  • it appears to the authority that the applicant may be homeless, or threatened with homelessness within 56 days.

The threshold for assessment is very low and the authority only needs to consider if the applicant may be threatened with homelessness to trigger the duty.[4]

If there is any doubt as to whether the applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, then the authority should err on the side of caution and begin the assessment process in order to determine whether or not any further duty is owed.[5] If the authority engages with a third party (for example the landlord, or a family member) to substantiate a claim of homelessness or threatened homelessness then the duty to assess is triggered and notification of the outcome of the assessment will be required.[6]

An authority' s refusal to accept an application for help and to carry out an assessment can only be challenged by way of judicial review.

Repeat applications

The duty to assess does not arise if:[7]

  • the applicant made a previous application to the same authority
  • s/he had already been assessed, and
  • there has been no material change in circumstances or new information affecting the previous assessment.

Where there are substantive new facts, the local authority must treat the fresh application as a new application for accommodation or assistance and assess the applicant afresh.[8]

Applicants previously assessed under Part 7 Housing Act 1996

Applicants who have previously been assessed under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 can re-apply as homeless under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 even if there has been no material change in circumstances or new information which affects their previous application. This is due to the statutory requirement that they are re-assessed under section 62 of the 2014 Act.

Even if it is unlikely that a final duty will be owed if nothing has changed since the previous assessment, repeat applicants will be owed a 'help to secure' duty if they remain homeless and are eligible.

Applications to more than one authority

In some cases, homeless applicants may apply to more than one local authority. If there is more than one current application, then the authorities should liaise to agree which one will take the lead responsibility for conducting enquiries and, if necessary, for providing interim accommodation.

Where another authority has previously made decisions about an applicant's circumstances, then a different authority considering a fresh application can have regard to those decisions. However, the new authority will still needs to make its own enquiries in order to reach an independent decision as to whether any duty under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 is owned to the applicant.[9]

Initial assessment

The local authority must assess whether the applicant is eligible for help under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.[10]

If the applicant is eligible for help then the authority's assessment must also include:[11]

  • circumstances that have caused the applicant to become homeless or threatened with homelessness
  • housing needs of the applicant and anyone living with the applicant, or reasonably expected to do so
  • support needed to retain accommodation which is or may become available
  • applicant's wishes in terms of outcome.

The assessment must also include whether any further duty is owed under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

The authority can carry out its assessment of the applicant's circumstances, housing and support needs, and wishes. before a conclusion has been reached on eligibility for help.[12]

The provisions on eligibility are complex and may take some time to assess. It is therefore in the best interest of both the applicant and the authority to seek an understanding of the applicant's circumstances, housing and related support needs and wishes as early as possible, so that prevention or relief can commence immediately after the applicant's eligibility is confirmed.[13]

If the applicant is subsequently found not eligible, s/he will still be entitled to free information, advice and assistance on homelessness prevention, securing accommodation and accessing other help.[14]

Substantive assessment

Under Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, all eligible applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness will be owed some form of duty, so a thorough assessment should take place for all applicants irrespective of potential priority need.

The Code of Guidance for Local Authorities in Wales recommends that local authorities adopt or use certain tools and templates when carrying out assessments. These include:

  • Equal Ground Standard tool (developed by Shelter Cymru in consultation with service users of housing and homelessness services)
  • housing solutions first contact assessment[15]
  • support assessment[16]
  • personal housing plan.[17]

Assessment of circumstances

The obligation to satisfy itself whether a duty is owed rests with the authority and it is not for applicants to 'prove their case'. It is important that the applicant has been given the opportunity to explain their circumstances fully, particularly on matters that could lead to an adverse decision, for example, a decision that they are intentionally homeless or not in priority need.[18]

Assessment of housing and support needs

The authority must take account of any medical or physical needs, any social considerations which might affect the decision they are reaching, and any relevant safety concerns.[19]

Factors that should be taken into account include poverty, outstanding debt, physical or mental ill health or disability, or where there is a history of rough sleeping. Identification of an unmet support need may also indicate what type of accommodation would be appropriate.[20]

Housing officers should be aware of social services' assessment duties under Part 3 of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 where an adult or child has a potential need for care and support. Authorities can carry out both assessments at the same time. A multi-agency approach should be adopted when other professionals and agencies are involved.[21]

Assessment of applicant's wishes

An applicant's wishes might include a wish to be in a specific location due to family ties, work, a hospital or special school, caring responsibilities or cultural/community links.[22]

The applicant should be provided with a realistic outline of the options available and what can be provided given the local housing market, the current waiting times for appropriate social or supported housing, and the cost of private renting in the areas of their choice – including whether this could be affordable and accessible to them.[23]

Once the applicant's preferred outcome is identified, then the authority must assess whether reasonable steps can be taken to contribute to the achievement of the outcome. The Act is clear that there is no expectation that the authority must meet the applicant's wishes unless it is able to do so within the constraints of the local housing market and their own resources.[24]

Keeping the assessment under review

The authority must actively review its assessment in the following situations:[25]

  • where an applicant has been notified that they are owed a 'help to prevent' duty and it subsequently appears that this has ended or is likely to come to an end because homelessness prevention has been unsuccessful and the applicant is now homeless
  • where an applicant has been notified that they are owed a 'help to secure' duty and it has or will end in circumstances where a final duty may be owed to the applicant.

Priority need and intentionality enquiries

The authority is not obliged to start investigations into priority need and intentionality until it appears that a 'help to secure' duty has or is likely to come to an end in circumstances where a final duty may be owed to the applicant.

In practice, inquiries into these issues can and usually will start at an earlier stage, particularly where an interim accommodation duty is owed. But the authority should not decide whether they are satisfied that an applicant is in priority need or has become homeless intentionally until it is deciding whether the applicant is owed the final duty. Priority need and intentionality inquiries made at an earlier stage should not detract from the authority's reasonable steps under a 'help to prevent' or 'help to secure' duty.

Notice of outcome of assessment

The local authority must notify the applicant of the outcome of its assessment (or any review of its assessment).[26]

The notice must be in writing, and inform the applicant of the authority's decision as to whether:

  • s/he is eligible for help
  • any duty is owed (and if so, which duty or duties).

The notice must also:

Applicants are likely to receive at least two notices (or three if they first presented when threatened with homelessness).

The Code recommends that authorities aim to complete each stage of the assessment and notify the applicant of their decision within 10 working days.[27]

Where the notice cannot be sent to the applicant, or where the authority believes the applicant will not receive it, the authority should make it available at its office for collection by the applicant (or a third party on her/his behalf).[28]

Example of notice of outcome of assessment

An example of a notice of outcome of assessment is provided in Annex 18 of the Code of Guidance for Local Authorities in Wales.

Applications made before 27 April 2015

The provisions in Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 apply to homelessness applications made to local authorities in Wales on or after 27 April 2015.

For the law applicable to applications made in Wales before that date, contact Shelter Cymru.

[1] para 10.7 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[2] para 8.4 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016. 

[3] s.62 Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[4] para 8.4 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.  

[5] para 10.9 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.  

[6] para 10.6 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[7] s.62(2) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[8] para 10.12 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[9] para 10.39 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[10] s.62(4) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[11] s.62(5)-(6) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[12] s.62(7) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[13] para 10.14 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[14] s.60 Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[15] annex 15 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.  

[16] annex 16 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.   

[17] annex 17 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.    

[18] para 10.22 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[19] para 10.23 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[20] para 10.25 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[21] para 10.27 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[22] para 10.32 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[23] para 10.15 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016. 

[24] s.62(6)(b) Housing (Wales) Act 2014; para 10.36 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.  

[25] s.62(9) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[26] s.63(1) Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

[27] para 10.54 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

[28] s.63(4)(d) Housing (Wales) Act 2014; para 10.57 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on the Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, March 2016.

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