Local authority duty to make homelessness inquiries

Local authorities have a duty to carry out inquiries if they have reason to believe someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness.

This content applies to England

Initial interview when a homeless application is made

Every person who applies to the local authority for homelessness assistance and states that they are or are going to be homeless is entitled to an initial interview.[1]

The initial interview should be of sufficient length to allow adequate inquiries to be made. For example, a 10 minute interview was not sufficient to establish the cause of a family breakdown.[2]

Applicants should not be 'screened out' of more detailed inquiries by an initial interview that does not adequately investigate the applicant's situation.[3] For example, it was unlawful for a local authority to hold only a brief initial interview with an applicant who presented a GP report mentioning an asylum seeking background and various mental health problems.[4]

All inquiries should be carried out with humanity and care.[5]

See the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017: duties & powers flowchart for more information.

Inquiries before a homelessness decision is made

When a person applies to a local authority for accommodation or help with finding somewhere to live and the local authority has a reason to believe that the person may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, the authority must accept a homeless application and make inquiries as to:[6]

  • whether the applicant is eligible for assistance

  • what duty the authority owes them

The local authority may also check whether the applicant has a local connection with another local authority in England, Wales or Scotland.[7]

The local authority must carry out sufficient inquiries to satisfy itself that the applicant is owed a homelessness duty.[8] This is a higher threshold than the 'reason to believe' required to accept a homeless application.

The local authority must provide a written notification of this decision.[9] It must establish what duty is owed before issuing the decision. This means that inquiries are carried out throughout the homelessness application process and the applicant may receive more than one decision letter.[10]

The applicant may qualify for emergency accommodation for the duration of the local authority's inquiries.

Order of local authority's homelessness inquiries

Initially, the local authority has to establish whether the applicant is owed the prevention or relief duty and should inquire into whether the applicant is:

  • eligible

  • homeless or threatened with homelessness

During inquiries into whether the relief duty is owed, the local authority can check if the applicant has a local connection to its area. If this is not the case, it may check if the applicant has a local connection to another area in England.[11]

If homelessness is not resolved at the relief duty stage, the local authority has to establish whether it owes the applicant the main housing duty and inquire into:

  • priority need

  • intentionality

  • local connection in England, Wales or Scotland

How inquiries should be carried out

Inquiries must be detailed but not as extensive as inquiries into criminal matters.[12]

When carrying out inquiries into a homeless application, local authorities:

  • should act reasonably on responsible evidence, from reasonable and reliable people[13]

  • must not make assumptions about important issues[14]

The local authority may seek further advice to assess the evidence presented by the applicant.[15] Advice should be sought from the most appropriate sources.[16]

Inquiries into relevant matters

The applicant and any adviser assisting them should ensure that the local authority is aware of all matters relevant to the homeless application.

It is difficult to challenge a homelessness decision on the basis that the authority failed to inquire about an issue it had no reason to believe was relevant.[17]

Examples of inadequate inquiries

Failure to make adequate or sufficient inquiries is a common reason for homelessness decisions being quashed by the courts.[18] Authorities can be challenged if they fail to make an inquiry that no reasonable authority could fail to regard as necessary.[19]

Examples of inadequate inquiries include failing to properly investigate a medical condition that might mean the applicant is in priority need.[20]

In the case of a former asylum seeker whose mental health condition was caused by historic mistreatment, there was an expectation that the local authority's inquiries would involve:[21]

  • consulting with the applicant's current and former medical advisers and the relevant mental health services

  • seeking a psychiatric report

  • inquiring about the applicant's pre-homelessness way of life

  • inquiring about details of the applicant's asylum case, including the psychiatric assessment and treatment he had previously received

  • looking into why the applicant's tenancy had been terminated

When inquiring into whether the applicant has become homeless intentionally, the authority must not assume that the accommodation the applicant gave up was available and reasonable to continue to occupy.[22]

Burden of proof in homelessness inquiries

The duty to make inquiries and the burden of proof rest with the local authority.[23]

The applicant has to provide the local authority with a reason to believe that they are homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The authority can request assistance from the following agencies which are required to cooperate so far as it is reasonable in the circumstances:[24]

  • another housing authority

  • new town corporation

  • social services authority

  • registered social landlord or housing action trust

Applicant's right to make representations

The applicant must be given an opportunity to make representations and challenge the authority's findings.[25]

The failure to put basic issues to the applicant could result in the authority missing out on relevant information.[26]

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.

Local authorities are required to consider the equality duty at each stage of the decision-making process.

It is for the authority to decide on the available evidence if there is a real possibility that the applicant or any member of their household has a disability or other protected characteristic which requires further enhanced inquiries.[27]

Where the applicant has a protected characteristic, inquiries must be carried out carefully and if a negative decision is made, fuller reasons must be given.[28]

Inquiries in cases involving domestic violence

Chapter 21 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance provides the following guidance about inquiries where there is or may be domestic abuse.[29]

Inquiries where violence is alleged need careful handling and local authorities should not approach the alleged perpetrator, because doing so may lead to further violence and abuse.

Local authorities may seek information from friends, relatives, social services, and the police. 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.

The authorities should recognise that the applicant may be in considerable distress and should ensure that the interview is conducted by an officer trained in dealing with people who have suffered violence. Applicants should 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.

Local authority inquiries into repeat applications

There is no legal limit on the number of homelessness applications that an individual can make to a local authority.

An applicant cannot make a further application based on exactly the same facts as their earlier application.

Case law has established that where a repeat application reveals new facts, which are 'neither trivial or fanciful', the authority must:[30]

  • treat the subsequent application as a fresh one

  • carry out the statutory inquiries into the new application

  • not investigate the accuracy of the new facts before deciding whether to treat the new application as valid or not

The authority's refusal to accept a repeat application can be challenged by way of judicial review and legal aid may be available.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references here are to this Code.

For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

Last updated: 13 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    para 11.3 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

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

  • [3]

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

  • [4]

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

  • [5]

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

  • [6]

    ss.183 and 184(1) Housing Act 1996

  • [7]

    s.184(2) Housing Act 1996.

  • [8]

    s.184(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [9]

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

  • [10]

    s.184(1)(b) Housing Act 1996.

  • [11]

    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.

  • [12]

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

  • [13]

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

  • [14]

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

  • [15]

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

  • [16]

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

  • [17]

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

  • [18]

    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.

  • [19]

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

  • [20]

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

  • [21]

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

  • [22]

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

  • [23]

    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.

  • [24]

    s.213 Housing Act 1996.

  • [25]

    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.

  • [26]

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

  • [27]

    Birmingham CC v Wilson [2016] EWCA Civ 1137.

  • [28]

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

  • [29]

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

  • [30]

    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)