Skip to main content
Shelter Logo

Housing law by numbers

Jodie Adams, a new Shelter adviser, shares her guide to understanding the key legal jargon used in homelessness advice, from section 184 to section 202.

Published January 2024

Demystifying homelessness jargon

Anyone who works in housing advice will be used to hearing people refer to various different sections of legislation in shorthand.

If you’re new to housing law, you’d be forgiven for not initially knowing what section 188, section 193 or any of these numbers mean.

When Jodie first started volunteering for Shelter, she had to quickly familiarise herself with homelessness jargon. Jodie then became a receptionist in a Shelter hub from November 2022 to November 2023, and she's now working as a new Shelter adviser.

Throughout all of this, Jodie has been keeping a record of the key terms or sections of homelessness legislation, and crucially, what each one actually means for the people affected.

Part VII

'Part VII' is a term which often crops up in discussions between housing advisers, as all of the key sections of homelessness legislation come from Part VII of the Housing Act 1996.

Sometimes a homeless application might be referred to as a Part VII application, referring to the relevant part of the Housing Act 1996.

Each section of legislation in this article comes from Part VII.

Section 184: homeless decision letters

Housing advisers can often be heard asking clients and local authorities alike whether a section 184 letter has been issued.

A section 184 letter can be either a positive or negative decision from the local council. The council might have decided they owe a prevention, relief or longer-term duty, or they may have ended their duties. A council will need to give reasons for their decision and make the homeless applicant aware of their right to request a review.

Housing advisers must always establish if a section 184 letter has been issued, and to consider the merits of requesting a review if so.

Section 184 of the Housing Act 1996 requires a local authority to notify a homeless applicant in writing of its decisions relating to their homeless application.

Find out more about a local authority's duty to notify a homeless applicant of their decisions on Shelter Legal.

Section 188: emergency accommodation

Section 188 is commonly heard when discussing homeless applications, says Jodie.

‘I remember section 188 being one of the first terms I heard when I first started volunteering. I had never come across this type of legislation before, so the idea of the law being known just by numbers was initially very confusing to me.’

Section 188 says that local authorities must provide interim, also known as emergency, accommodation where they have reason to believe that the homeless applicant is:

  • eligible

  • homeless

  • in priority need

It’s usually urgent that section 188 accommodation is provided where the local authority has a duty to do so. If a local authority doesn’t provide this accommodation when they should, it might be necessary to challenge them via judicial review.

Suitability of emergency accommodation

Even if emergency accommodation is offered, there can still be problems, Jodie says.

‘Emergency accommodation is very often a hotel, far away from the life and support system people have known, and this often means people want to challenge the suitability of the accommodation they have been placed in.’

As with the refusal to provide emergency accommodation, the only formal route to challenge the suitability of this accommodation is by judicial review.

Jodie knows this process can be very stressful for homeless applicants.

'Being offered emergency temporary accommodation, often at short notice, not knowing where you will be, is very worrying for people. Having been through the experience myself as a child, I am often reminded of the anxiety and uncertainty me and my family felt during this time.’

Section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 requires a local authority to provide emergency accommodation where it has reason to believe that a person is eligible for assistance, homeless and in priority need.

Find out more about interim accommodation duties on Shelter Legal.

PN: priority need

Priority need might not often get referred to by a specific section of the Housing Act (it's section 189, in case you need to know), but it is an important term you will come across when dealing with homelessness, as Jodie quickly found out.

'Often abbreviated as PN, this is another term I had to familiarise myself with when I began triaging clients as receptionist.'

Priority need is one of the key tests which determines whether a person is entitled to emergency or longer term accommodation.

For some people who have children, are pregnant or fleeing domestic abuse, establishing priority need can be clear-cut. But for people who might be vulnerable, for instance due to health issues, disabilities or experiences such as time spent in care, prison or the armed forces, it can be more difficult to show that the person is in priority need.

Jodie found that sometimes a lot of questions need to be asked to figure out if someone might be in priority need.

'These are quite personal questions to ask people that you have just met, so I always try to approach this part of triaging with as much compassion as possible.'

A local authority only needs reason to believe that a person has priority need to have a duty to provide interim accommodation. A local authority needs to be satisfied that a person has priority need to owe the main housing duty.

Section 189 of the Housing Act 1996 sets out when a person has a priority need for homelessness assistance. A person has priority need if they have children or are pregnant, or if they are otherwise vulnerable.

Find out more about priority need on Shelter Legal.

Section 191: intentional homelessness

The phrase 'intentional homelessness' can sound odd, and even unfair, to people who haven’t come across it before, says Jodie.

‘I am reluctant to use the term intentionally homeless when discussing this process with clients.'

Intentional homelessness is the term used when the council decides that a person has become homeless because of something they have done or failed to do.

Many intentionally homeless decisions arise when someone turns down accommodation they have been offered.

‘Often, due to language barriers or their housing officer not relaying the information properly, people turn down offers because it is too far away from the area they know, or because it is not medically suitable for them and their family.’

The risks in turning down an offer

To avoid the council issuing a decision that their client is intentionally homeless, housing advisers will normally advise clients to accept an offer and then look at their options for challenging or reviewing it.

In practice, Jodie says this can mean advising people to accept accommodation they don’t feel is suitable, which can be difficult.

‘The idea of accepting a property you know you don’t want to live in, moving into the property, to go through the process of a suitability review, which if successful to then move out from, often seems counterproductive.’

Jodie remembers one occasion where she had to advise someone who had received an offer of temporary accommodation. Jodie had to advise the client to accept the property.

‘The estate agent mentioned at the viewing that the neighbours’ dog was very aggressive and dangerous. With a fear of dogs, the client felt like it was the right decision to turn the property down.’

‘I said, I appreciate you are concerned, however, if you turn this property down your housing officer might make an intentionally homeless decision against you and will not offer you any more properties. After discussing this for some time, I managed to convince her not to refuse the offer.’

This allowed the client’s caseworker to consider the options to request a review and meant that the client avoided being found intentionally homeless.

Section 191 of the Housing Act 1996 sets out when a local authority can end its duties towards a homeless person if they have become homeless due to something they have done or failed to do. This is known as being 'intentionally homeless'.

Find out more about intentional homelessness on Shelter Legal.

Section 193: the main housing duty

‘When volunteering, I often heard caseworkers celebrating the ‘193 decision’, but as someone with no housing knowledge, I had no idea what they were celebrating and why‘, Jodie says.

Section 193 marks a major milestone in someone's homeless application. Once the section 193 duty has been accepted, the local authority should:

  • offer longer term accommodation to the homeless applicant

  • provide temporary accommodation until they are able to make a longer term offer

Section 193 or section 188 accommodation

Accommodation provided under this duty is not to be confused with the emergency accommodation duty under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996.

'It took me a while to understand what each of these decisions mean for the applicants. I learnt by listening to conversations of my colleagues and paying attention to the questions they asked clients to figure out if they had received a section 193 decision letter.’

Advisers need to clarify what duty accommodation is offered under, as it can make a significant difference to the advice they need, Jodie says.

‘Often, the client doesn’t know what decision has been made, so you must ask them questions which would help indicate what type of accommodation they are in and if the main housing duty has been accepted.’

Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996 covers the main housing duty. A local authority owes this when someone is eligible for assistance, homeless, in priority need and not intentionally homeless.

A local authority must provide temporary accommodation to someone owed the main housing duty until it can make an offer of longer term accommodation.

Find out more about the section 193 main housing duty on Shelter Legal.

Section 199: local connection

This isn't something you tend to hear referred to by the section alone, but it's a crucial part of a homeless application.

If a person does not have a local connection to the area they have applied to, that local authority can refer them to another local authority where they do have a connection.

Sometimes a local authority might try to use local connection requirements to refuse to take a homeless application at all, Jodie says.

'Often, I see cases where local authorities are bouncing clients between one local authority to another trying to get the other one to accept the duty without accommodating the clients whilst doing so.'

Section 199 of the Housing Act 1996 covers when a homeless applicant is considered to have a local connection to a local authority area. Usually this is when someone has lived in an area for six of the last 12 months or 3 of the last 5 years, is employed there, or has close family there. A person might also have a local connection for other special reasons.

Find out more about local connection on Shelter Legal.

Section 202: internal reviews

When someone has received a negative section 184 decision on their homeless application, they have a right to request a review of that decision within 21 days.

This process is known sometimes as a section 202 review, but it's not always referred to by this name.

'Section 202 is something we discuss often, but in my experience, it isn’t usually referred to as section 202, instead, in the hub, we often talk about submitting an internal review.'

Many different local authority decisions on homelessness are subject to review, including the decision:

  • that the main housing duty is not owed (for instance, if an applicant is found to be intentionally homeless or not in priority need)

  • to end a duty (including prevention, relief and the main housing duty)

  • whether accommodation offered as temporary or longer-term housing is suitable

Reviews are therefore a crucial process which come up time and again in discussions amongst housing advisers, but not every decision can be reviewed.

‘Often, you need to assess whether there is merit to the review, and the review needs to be supported with sufficient evidence. Knowing when there is merit and when there isn’t, and being able to relay this confidently to clients is still something I am working on.’

Section 202 of the Housing Act 1996 sets out when a homeless applicant has the right to request a review of a local authority's decision on their homeless application.

Find out more about section 202 reviews on Shelter Legal.

If a review isn't successful, it might be possible for a homeless applicant to appeal under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996.

Find out more about section 204 appeals on Shelter Legal.

Jodie Adams is a housing rights worker in Shelter's Dalston hub. Jodie originally started working at Shelter as a volunteer.