Local authority duty to relieve homelessness
Where a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless and eligible, it must take reasonable steps to help the applicant secure that accommodation becomes available for at least six months.
When the relief duty applies
The relief duty applies when a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless and eligible for assistance.
Referring the relief duty to another authority
Where the local connection conditions for referral are met, the authority applied to may refer the applicant to a second authority at the relief duty stage. The authority must follow the correct process for a referral at relief duty stage.
If an applicant is informed that a referral has taken or will take place, neither authority will owe the relief duty until the referral is either accepted or rejected by the second authority.
If the first authority has reason to believe that the applicant may be in priority need it must secure temporary accommodation for the applicant until the second authority has accepted or rejected the referral.
If the referral is rejected, the first authority may have a duty to secure accommodation.
Overlap with other homelessness duties
The relief duty will always exist alongside the duty to assess an applicant's need and produce a personalised housing plan (PHP). The assessment and PHP should inform all action taken under relief.
Where there is reason to believe that an applicant is homeless, eligible and in priority need, the local authority will have an interim accommodation duty to ensure the applicant has somewhere to live pending enquiries.
The Homelessness Code of Guidance strongly discourages authorities from limiting the assistance they provide under relief if a main housing duty is owed. It states that where an authority believes a main housing duty is owed, it should not notify an applicant of this during relief stage as this might 'detract from activities' to relieve homelessness.
If an applicant is found to be intentionally homelessness and in priority need, the Code advises that the authority might wish to notify the applicant during the relief stage to give warning that the main duty will not be owed. The authority has further duties to someone who is intentionally homeless and in priority need.
What the relief duty involves
The relief duty requires an authority to 'take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that suitable accommodation becomes available for the applicant's occupation' for at least six months.
'Help to secure' does not mean that the authority has to source and provide accommodation, but that it should try to agree reasonable steps for itself and the applicant which could result in accommodation being found. There is, however, a power for authorities to provide accommodation as one of those reasonable steps.
Link between steps and assessment of need
The reasonable steps taken by the local authority should be informed by the assessment and should include those set out in the personalised housing plan. In practice, the steps are likely to be identical.
The PHP can set out steps the applicant is required to take as well as those for the local authority. These are not part of relief activity. However, if the applicant does not take these steps, they could be deemed to have failed to cooperate which could result in the relief duty being ended.
Communication between applicant and authority
Ending the relief duty
The relief duty ends 56 days from when it was accepted if the local authority is satisfied that the applicant is in priority need and not homeless intentionally. The local authority might then owe the applicant the main housing duty.
The local authority can also end the relief duty by serving a notice. Any decision to end the duty can be challenged. Even where the relief duty has been ended, the Code suggests that an authority should continue to work with support services to 'promote sustainability' where an applicant has needs putting themselves at risk of further homelessness.
Last updated: 3 October 2022