Notification of duties owed to homeless applicants
The authority must notify the applicant when a homelessness duty is owed.
Notification of duties owed
On completing its duty to carry out inquiries in response to a homelessness application, the authority must notify the applicant of its decision. This could mean that notifications are needed in respect of:
accommodation duties once inquiries have been completed
The notification must be in writing and either given to the applicant or made available for the applicant to collect. The local authority can sent the notification by letter or email depending on the needs of the applicant.  It must inform the applicant of their right to request a review of the decision and the time within which the request must be made.
The notification is usually referred to a 'section 184 decision letter' in recognition of the section requiring it in the Housing Act 1996.
A local authority's homelessness inquiries may result in a series of decisions as one duty ends and another becomes engaged. For example, the authority may conclude that an applicant is owed a prevention duty, but if the applicant subsequently becomes homeless, then the authority must issue a fresh notification if it owes the relief duty. A written notification must be made in respect of each of duty owed, but they could be combined.
Notification following initial interview
If the local authority, following an initial interview, concludes that a prospective applicant is either not eligible for assistance or not homeless or threatened with homelessness, no duties are owed to the applicant.
If this is the case, the authority should issue a section 184 decision letter.
Timing of notification accepting main duty or duty to intentionally homeless
Where an authority intends to accept a main housing duty to an applicant, the Homelessness Code of Guidance advises that the authority should not issue a section 184 decision during the relief duty stage, as this may detract from activities to relieve homelessness. It suggests that an authority should be able to issue a decision 'on or around day 57'.
Where inquiries take longer, the Code recommends that authorities notify the applicant of the decision no longer than 15 working days later.
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.
If the decision is against the applicant's interests, the notification should inform the applicant of:
the reasons for the decision
their right to request a review of the decision
the time within which a request for a review must be made
The reasons given must be 'proper', 'adequate' and 'reasons which will not only be intelligible, but which deal with the substantial points that have been raised'. This means that an authority must explain why it has rejected an applicant's argument and show that it has gone through the right process of thinking to arrive at its conclusion.
Where there are two contradictory accounts of events, the decision letter should explain why one was preferred to the other.
A notification must be in plain language, and could include information on where an applicant could obtain independent advice. Authorities are encouraged to consider providing face-to-face explanations of notifications where an applicant may find it difficult to understand the decision.
It is not sufficient for authorities to rely on standard wording. A decision letter must focus on all of the particular circumstances of the applicant and properly engage with their statutory obligations. The public sector equality duty under s.149 Equality Act 2010 complements the duties under the homelessness legislation and requires that authorities focus very sharply on whether an applicant with an actual or probable disability, or other protected characteristic, is more vulnerable as a result and requires special consideration. Where an applicant has a protected characteristic, inquiries must be even more careful, and fuller reasons must be given for a negative decision.
A decision may be unlawful if the authority's inquiries leading up to it have not been adequate.
The Code of Guidance recognises that there will be some circumstances in which it will be reasonable to combine notifications. For example, a notification that the prevention duty has ended may be notified at the same time as the relief duty is engaged.
When notifications are combined, the authority must make sure that the applicant is made aware of their review rights in respect of each of the decisions. If an applicant wishes to challenge a decision, they must request a review within the relevant time limits.
Once a local authority has completed its enquiries and issued a decision letter to an applicant, it cannot reopen its inquiries and revisit or withdraw its decision, unless that decision was the result of the applicant's fraud and deception, or the result of a fundamental mistake of fact.
Even if the local authority has contracted out its functions under the homelessness legislation, the liability in respect of decision making rests with the authority.
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: 3 October 2022