Local authority duty to prevent homelessness
Where a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is threatened with homelessness and eligible, it must take reasonable steps to help the applicant secure that accommodation does not cease to be available for their occupation.
When the prevention duty applies
The prevention duty applies when a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is threatened with homelessness and eligible for assistance.
Where an applicant is likely to become homeless in the near future but does not fall under the statutory definition of 'threatened with homelessness', local authorities are encouraged to take a flexible approach and begin to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness rather than waiting until the applicant meets the legal definition.
The prevention duty applies regardless of an applicant's priority need. An authority might make inquiries into an applicant's priority need during the prevention duty because it is relevant to the suitability of accommodation offered to prevent homelessness. Priority need inquiries must not delay prevention work.
An applicant who is threatened with homelessness and eligible will be owed a prevention duty by the authority to which they apply. The local authority cannot refer the applicant to another authority at prevention stage.
Overlap with the duty to assess
Where a prevention duty is owed to an applicant, there will always be a duty to assess and produce a personalised housing plan (PHP), as these duties apply when an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness and eligible. The assessment and PHP should inform all action taken under the prevention duty (see below).
An applicant who is 'threatened with homelessness' is not actually homeless, so there will be no overlap with duties which require the applicant to be statutorily homeless, such as the interim duty to accommodate or the duty to protect property.
What the prevention duty involves
The prevention duty requires an authority to 'take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available'.
'Helping to secure' does not mean that the authority has a duty to directly source and provide accommodation for the applicant. Instead, authorities should provide 'support and advice to applicants who are taking some responsibility for securing their own accommodation'.
The Homelessness Code of Guidance suggests an authority first focuses on steps which may enable the applicant to stay in there current home. Where this is not possible, the focus should be on securing other accommodation so that the applicant can move 'in a planned way'.
As part of the PHP, the applicant could be required to take steps to find accommodation themselves. These steps do not strictly form part of prevention activity, but the applicant may be deemed to have failed to cooperate if they do not comply, which could result in the prevention duty being ended.
Link between steps and assessment of need
Cooperation between authorities
Where an applicant applies as homeless in a different area to where they have been living, the authority to which they apply is encouraged to ask for assistance from the area in which the applicant is living. Local authorities are encouraged to establish protocols for collaboration where this is a common occurrence, and applicants may gain assistance from these.
Communication between applicant and authority
The local authority should make arrangements for 'accessible and timely communication with applicants' to maximise effectiveness. As an example, this might involve an applicant discussing the progress of negotiations with a landlord with the local authority.
The local authority should also provide for more formal reviews of the PHP and and as a result, the reasonable steps carried out under the prevention duty may change.
Ending the prevention duty
The prevention duty can only be ended in specified circumstances.
The Code suggests that even if prevention work has been successful a local authority may wish to continue working with relevant support services where the applicant has issues which may lead to the risk of further homelessness.
Last updated: 29 September 2022