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.

This content applies to England

When the relief duty applies

The relief duty applies when a local authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless and eligible for assistance.[1]

Referring the relief duty to another authority

Where the conditions for referral are met, the authority applied to may refer the applicant to a second are relief duty stage.[2] 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 made or fails.[3] The authority must follow the correct process for a referral at relief duty stage.

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.

There will also be a duty to assess whether a main housing duty exists.[4] The Homelessness Code of Guidance strongly discourages authorities from limiting the assistance they provide under relief if a main housing duty is owed.[5] 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.[6] However, where an applicant is intentionally homeless, it suggests applicants are informed.[7]

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.[8]

Where there is a relief duty, there will also be a duty to protect an applicant's property even where there are no accommodation duties.[9]

There will never be an overlap between the relief and the prevention duty as the latter applies when an applicant is eligible and threatened with homelessness rather than actually homeless.[10]

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.[11]

'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.[12] There is, however, a power for authorities to provide accommodation as one of those reasonable steps.[13]

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.[14]

The PHP can set out steps the applicant is required to take as well as those for the local authority.[15] 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.[16]

If the applicant disagrees with the steps that the local authority is to take, they can request a review of those steps.[17]

Communication between applicant and authority

The Code suggests that the authority will need to have arrangements for 'accessible and timely communication' so the applicant can discuss progress.[18] The PHP will also have to be kept under review and as a result, the reasonable steps carried out under the relief duty may change. 

Ending the relief duty

The relief duty can only be ended in certain specific circumstances and 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.[19]

Last updated: 17 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.189B(1) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [2]

    s.198(A1) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(8) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [3]

    s.199A(1) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(9) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [4]

    s.184(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [5]

    para 13.9 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [6]

    para 13.10 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018

  • [7]

    para 13.11 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [8]

    s.188(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [9]

    s.211(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(12) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [10]

    s.195(1) as substituted by s.4(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [11]

    s.189B(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [12]

    para 16.3 and 16.4 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [13]

    s.205(3) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.6 Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [14]

    s.189B(3) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [15]

    s.189A(4) and s.189A(6) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.3(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [16]

    s.189B(9)(b) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.5(2) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and s.193C(2) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.7(1) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [17]

    s.202(2)(ba)(i) Housing Act 1996 as inserted by s.9(2)(b) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • [18]

    para 13.5 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [19]

    para 13.8 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.