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Referrals: main duty stage

This content applies to England

Referral to another local authority at the main duty stage.

When referral can be made

Where a homeless applicant is owed the main housing duty s/he can be referred to another local authority (the 'second authority') where the referral conditions are met.[1]

This means that an applicant can be referred once the authority (the 'first authority') has decided that an applicant is homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and not intentionally homeless.

For applications made before 3 April 2018 this is the only stage at which a local connection referral can be made. For applications made on or after 3 April 2018:

  • where the local authority has already accepted a main housing duty (and a referral has not been made at relief stage), the referral can only occur once the authority's relief duty to her/him has ended[2]
  • a referral cannot be made in respect of an applicant who the authority judges has deliberately and unreasonably failed to cooperate with steps owed under the relief duty as the main housing duty will not have arisen.[3]

A referral can be made to an English, Scottish or Welsh local authority. See the local connection page for the position when an English authority wishes to refer a former asylum seeker to a Scottish authority.

Duty to applicant after notification of referral

The first authority must give notification of the referral to the second authority and to the applicant. The applicant may be given notification either before or after the notification to the second authority

Once the applicant has been notified that the first authority has notified (or intends to notify) a second authority that it is of the opinion that the conditions for referral are met, the first authority will not be:[4]

  • under a duty to secure interim accommodation under section 188
  • subject to the main housing duty (under section 193).

The first authority must continue to secure temporary accommodation until the second authority has accepted the referral.[5] It must also continue to protect the applicant's property where applicable.[6]

Acceptance or rejection of referral

Where the first authority notifies another that it is making a referral, the second authority will have to consider whether the referral conditions are met. If it agrees that they are, then it will have to accept the referral.[7]

The first authority should notify the second authority that it is referring an applicant, firstly by telephone,email or fax and then in writing. A specimen standard notification form is attached to the Local Authority Agreement.[8]

Referral accepted by second authority

If the second authority accepts the referral it will owe the main housing duty to the applicant. The first authority will owe no further duties to the applicant although it has the discretion to provide temporary accommodation pending the outcome of a review.[9]

The decision of the first authority that the applicant is homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and not intentionally homeless is binding on the second authority, even if it arose from a fresh application by the applicant to the first authority after the second authority had previously discharged its duty to the applicant under an earlier application.[10] It is only open to the second authority to challenge the decision of the first authority that an applicant is owed the main housing duty by way of judicial review on public law grounds.[11]

Referral rejected by second authority

If the second authority rejects the referral, and the first authority accepts its decision, the first authority will owe the main housing duty to the applicant.[12]

Previous application to second authority

If the authority to whom the referral was made had made a negative decision in respect of a previous application, it will only have to accept a duty following the referral if there has been a subsequent change of circumstances. Where there has been no change of circumstances, the main housing duty will remain with the first authority. The first authority cannot reopen inquiries and revisit its decision unless that decision was the result of:[13]

  • the applicant's fraud and deception
  • a fundamental mistake of fact

For further details about applications to more than one authority see Multiple, repeat and withdrawn applications.


Where the two authorities are unable to come agreement as to whether the referral conditions are met, they can enter the procedure to resolve disputes.

Notification of decision to applicant

When the two authorities have reached a decision on whether the referral conditions are met the first authority must notify the applicant in writing of:[14]

  • its decision and the reasons for it
  • her/his right to request a review of the decision within 21 days.

Local authority guidelines

Voluntary guidelines on the procedure for referrals of homeless applicants to another local authority, and for resolving disputes between local authorities are set out in the 'Procedures for referrals of homeless applicants to another local authority' (commonly known as the Local Authority Agreement). This has been updated to take account of the changes introduced by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. A specimen standard notification form is attached to the Agreement.

[1] s.198(1) Housing Act 1996.

[2] s.200(1A) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(10)(c) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

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

[4] s.200(1) Housing Act 1996.

[5] s.200(1) Housing Act 1996.

[6] s.211(2) Housing Act 1996.

[7] s.200(4) Housing Act 1996.

[8] para 6.1 Procedures for referrals of homeless applicants to another local authority, Local Government Association, 2018 (the standard notification form is on page 17 of the document).

[9] s.200(4) and (5) Housing Act 1996.

[10] R v Slough BC ex parte Ealing LBC [1981] QB 801; R (on the application of Kensington and Chelsea RLBC) v Ealing LBC [2017] EWHC 24 (Admin).

[11] R v Newham LBC ex p Tower Hamlets LBC (1991) 23 HLR 62, CA.

[12] s.200(3) Housing Act 1996.

[13] R (on the application of Sambotin) v Brent LBC [2018] EWCA Civ 1826; R v Dacorum DC ex parte Walsh (1991) 24 HLR 401, QBD; Porteous v West Dorset DC [2004] EWCA Civ 244.

[14] s.200(2) and (6) Housing Act 1996.

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