Local authority duties to prevent and relieve homelessness

Local authorities have duties to prevent and relieve homelessness for all homeless applicants who are eligible based on their immigration status. 

Published October 2022

Homeless applications to a local authority

When a person applies to a local authority for homelessness assistance, the authority must accept the application if it has reason to believe they might be homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The local authority must then make inquiries into the person's situation to determine what duties it might owe them. The duties owed depend on the stage of the application and the person's situation. The authority might have different duties depending if the person is:

  • homelessness or threatened with homelessness

  • eligible based on their immigration status

  • in priority need

  • intentionally homeless

The local authority can also consider whether someone who is homeless has a local connection to the authority’s area. If they do not, the authority can refer them to an area where they do have a local connection. 

The prevention and relief duties

When the authority is satisfied that the person is eligible for assistance, and homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days, they must assess the person’s housing needs and draw up a personalised housing plan.

If the person is threatened with homelessness, the authority has a duty to help prevent them becoming homeless (the prevention duty). 

If the person is already homeless, the authority has a duty to help them secure accommodation for at least six months (the relief duty).

Duty to assess an applicant's housing needs

When the authority is satisfied that the person is eligible and either homeless or threatened with homelessness it must carry out a housing needs assessment. The assessment should cover the circumstances which led to the person becoming homeless, what accommodation would be suitable for them and any support needs of anyone in the household. The local authority must try to agree the steps they will take with the person, and record those steps in a personalised housing plan (PHP).

Find out more on Shelter Legal about Homeless applicants assessment of needs.

The prevention duty

A local authority owes a person the prevention duty if it is satisfied that they are threatened with homelessness and eligible for assistance. A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that they will become homeless within 56 days, or if they have been given a valid section 21 notice in respect of their only accommodation which expires within 56 days.

Where the authority owes someone the prevention duty it also has a duty to assess their housing needs and produce a personalised housing plan. The assessment and plan should inform all action taken under the prevention duty.

As part of the personalised plan the person could be required to take steps to find accommodation themselves. The local authority might find the person has failed to cooperate if they do not take a reasonable step set out in the plan. This can allow the local authority to end the prevention duty early. 

Find out more on Shelter Legal about Deliberate and unreasonable refusals to cooperate.

No local connection referral allowed at prevention stage

The local authority cannot refer the person to another local authority at the prevention stage. The local authority that the person applies to must take steps under the prevention duty regardless of whether they have a local connection.

What the prevention duty involves

The prevention duty requires an authority to take reasonable steps to help the person to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available to them. Reasonable steps might include mediation with the person's current landlord, assistance with applying for social housing or matching them with private landlords.

'Help to secure' does not mean that the authority has a duty to directly source and provide accommodation for the person. The Homelessness Code of Guidance states that authorities should provide support and advice to applicants who are taking some responsibility for securing their own accommodation. The Code of Guidance suggests an authority should first focus on steps which might allow the person to stay in their current home. Where this is not possible, the focus should be on securing other accommodation so that the person can move 'in a planned way'.

If the person disagrees with the steps that the local authority are to take, they can request a review of those steps. The local authority has no duty to secure emergency accommodation for someone who is threatened with homelessness. 

Ending the prevention duty

The prevention duty can only be ended in specified circumstances and continues until the local authority serves notice to bring it to an end. The authority can serve notice where 56 days have passed, and the authority has complied with the duty.

The local authority can serve notice to end the duty before 56 days if the person:

  • has suitable accommodation for at least six months

  • refuses an offer of suitable accommodation

  • becomes homeless 

  • becomes homeless intentionally

  • ceases to be eligible

  • withdraws their application

The prevention duty can also end if the local authority gives notice that the person has deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate.

The Code of Guidance suggests that even if prevention work has been successful, a local authority might wish to continue working with relevant support services where the person has issues which may risk further homelessness. The person can request a review of any decision to end the prevention duty.

Find out more on Shelter Legal about the right to an internal review of a homelessness decision.

The relief duty

Where a local authority is satisfied that someone is homeless and eligible, it must take reasonable steps to help them secure that accommodation becomes available for at least six months. The assessment and personalised housing plan should inform all action taken under the relief duty. 

The duty on local authorities is to ‘help to secure’ accommodation. The authority can discharge the duty by securing accommodation for the person and their household, but they are not required to provide accommodation directly. There must be a reasonable prospect of the accommodation being available for at least six months.

The relief duty is particularly important for people who are not owed the main housing duty because they are either not in priority need, or in priority need but intentionally homeless. The Homelessness Code of Guidance advises that the relief duty must not be ‘watered down’ where the local authority considers that the person might not be owed a full housing duty. 

Emergency accommodation 

The authority must secure emergency accommodation if it has reason to believe the person might be:

  • homeless

  • eligible

  • in priority need

Where there is reason to believe the person might be in priority need, the authority must provide interim accommodation for the duration of the relief duty.

The duty to provide interim accommodation is not conditional on the person having a local connection to the area where they apply. If the local authority is making a referral on local connection grounds, it must provide emergency accommodation until the person is notified of the decision as to whether the conditions for the referral are met.

Ending the relief duty

If the local authority decides the person is in priority need and not intentionally homeless, the relief duty ends automatically after 56 days. There is no discretion to extend it. The Code of Guidance states that people owed the main housing duty should be notified on day 57.

Where inquiries are not completed before the end of the relief duty, the Code advises the decision should be made within 15 working days from when the relief duty ends. The local authority can give the person written notice that it is ending the relief duty if 56 days have passed and the authority has complied with the duty.

Ending the relief duty before 56 days have passed

The authority can give the person written notification that it is ending the relief duty before 56 days if the person:

  • has suitable accommodation with reasonable prospects of it being available for 6 months

  • refuses an offer of suitable accommodation and there was a prospect of it being available for 6 months

  • becomes intentionally homeless from any accommodation made available under the relief duty

  • is no longer eligible for assistance

  • has withdrawn their application

  • has refused a final accommodation offer or a final Part 6 offer of social housing

A final accommodation offer is an offer of a six month assured shorthold tenancy.

Local connection and relief duty

The local authority can refer the person to another authority at the relief stage if they are homeless and eligible for assistance, but do not have a local connection to the area where they have applied. The relief duty is not owed by the referring authority if that authority:

  • is satisfied that the person is eligible and homeless

  • believes that conditions for a local connection referral are met

  • notifies the applicant that it has notified or intends to notify another local authority of its opinion that the conditions for a referral are met

Further resources

Shelter Legal

Homeless application process – a local authorities duties under a homeless application, including the prevention and relief duties

Local authority duty to prevent homelessness - when the prevention duty applies, what it involves how an authority can end the duty

Local authority duty to relieve homelessness - when the relief duty applies, what it involves how an authority can end the duty

About the author

Douglas Jensen was a senior legal editor and trainer at Shelter. Douglas now works for the civil service as a senior content designer.