Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 now in force 

3 April 2018

What NRPF services will need to do to meet new requirements

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force in England on 3 April 2018, and brings in new duties for local authorities that aim to prevent homelessness. The Act amends the Housing Act 1996, which sets out what level of assistance must be provided to a person who is homeless. The Homelessness code of guidance has been updated to provide statutory guidance to local authorities following a recent government consultation.

The new legislation provides local authorities with an opportunity to further contribute to alleviating migrant destitution, as although people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) will not be eligible for homelessness assistance under the Housing Act 1996, local authorities must ensure that information and advice about homelessness prevention and alternative support options is made available to everyone in the area. This will include how to access social services' support, which is provided to prevent destitution when families, vulnerable adults and young people leaving care are excluded from mainstream welfare support by their​ immigration status. 

Additionally, the new prevention duty may have a positive impact on people with NRPF who have been provided with accommodation by social services and subsequently become eligible to apply for homelessness assistance following a grant of leave to remain with recourse to public funds.

This article sets out the changes that social services, and NRPF teams based in other council departments, need to be aware of, and provides best practice suggestions to support effective implementation of these new duties.
 
Relevant changes 

  • Local authorities must provide free advice and information about the help that is available for people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, which everybody in the area can access, including people who are not eligible for further homelessness services as a result of their immigration status. [3.1]
  • People who make a homelessness application and are found to be ineligible should be referred to any appropriate support services that they may be entitled to. [7.2]
  • The period in which someone must be treated as being threatened with homelessness under the Housing Act 1996 will be extended from 28 to 56 days. ​​[6.3]
  • A new prevention duty requires the local authority to take reasonable steps to prevent an eligible person who is threatened with homelessness within 56 days from becoming homelessness, either by arranging for them to remain in their current home or by securing accommodation elsewhere, for example, a private tenancy of at least six months. [Chapter 12]
  • A new relief duty requires the local authority to take reasonable steps to help an eligible person to secure accommodation within 56 days if homelessness has not been prevented, or if a person requests assistance when they are already homeless. Temporary accommodation may be provided during the relief period to those who are in priority need, for example, families with children under 18, pregnant women and vulnerable adults. ​​[Chapter 13]
  • The local authority must establish a personalised housing plan that sets out the reasonable steps the person and council will take to help prevent or relieve homelessness following an assessment of the person or family's needs. If accommodation is not secured during the relief period, then the local authority will decide whether the person or family are owed a full homelessness duty[Chapter 11]
  • In order to comply with section 11 of the Children Act 2004, local authority housing departments must safeguard and promote the welfare of children and cooperate with other agencies, including social services. Local authorities must ensure that the child’s needs are paramount, and the welfare, needs and wishes of each child should be put first, so that every child receives the support they need. [1.32]
  • Local authorities must review and publish a homelessness strategy, which should include input from social services to ensure that the needs of families and vulnerable adults who are threatened with homelessness are adequately considered within the strategy. This could include providing future projections of families accommodated by social services in the area who have NRPF and may become eligible following a change in immigration status. [2.21-22]
  • From 1 October 2018, public services, including social service​s, NRPF teams that are based in different council departments, and NHS in-patient and emergency services, will be required to refer a person who is threatened with homelessness within 56 days to the local authority of the individual’s choice. [Chapter 4]
The information above summarises the key changes and references relevant sections of the Code of guidance, which should be referred to for full information.

Implementing the changes - best practice 

In order to comply with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and cooperation duties set out in the Care Act 2014 and Children Act 2004, social services will need to work effectively with the local authority's housing department (or district councils in two-tier authorities), in order to contribute to the homelessness strategy, provide relevant information to residents, prevent homelessness where this is a realistic outcome, and comply with the new referral duty. 

Social services will also need to undertake joint working with the housing departments that are commonly approached by people who have been placed in temporary NRPF accommodation out of area. The Code of guidance now contains some points that may assist with such situations following our consultation submission, which raised concerns about how the Act could be effectively applied when the use of out of area NRPF accommodation placements is common practice. 

(i) Homelessness strategy
Social services will need to confirm the number of NRPF households they are supporting in the area in order to inform the local authority’s homelessness strategy. Where NRPF households are routinely placed in temporary accommodation out of area, then the placing local authority should cooperate with any requests for this information made by the council responsible for that area. Local authorities using NRPF Connect will be able to generate reports to obtain information about their own caseloads and to identify whether a person or family has been placed in their area by another council using the system.

(ii) Provision of information and advice
Information about services for people who are ineligible for homelessness assistance is likely to already be held by the NRPF service, but must be widely available to residents and to housing practitioners, who will be required to make referrals to alternative support services when people are ineligible. This information would need to include details of how people can access: support from social services, Home Office asylum support, welfare benefits advice, immigration advice, Home Office voluntary return schemes and local community or charitable services

Local authorities are encouraged to use our web tool - support for migrant families - to find out what support options a family has based on the parent's immigration status, and what social services will consider if support is requested. This flyer can be displayed and distributed within services.

(iii) Homelessness prevention
The new prevention and relief duties provide an opportunity for people to avoid having to move multiple times or spend a long period in temporary accommodation when their current home or alternative housing can be secured for them. This could be a desirable outcome for people or families with NRPF who become eligible, given that many will have been living in temporary accommodation funded by social services for over two years.

Realistically, it is likely that homelessness may only be successfully prevented in such circumstances where the person or family can remain in a privately rented property that has been funded by social services. If this is not possible but the housing department is able to secure alternative accommodation during the notice period, then social services may need to take a flexible approach if a short extension of the notice period is necessary to enable the move to take place. Such an agreement may be harder to obtain where the housing and social services departments are not part of the same local authority due to the financial implications of continuing support. However, both social services and housing departments should ensure that any decisions made do not adversely affect the welfare of children, in order to comply with section 11 of the Children Act 2004.

(iv) Preparing for the referral duty - 1 October 2018 
It is likely that most practitioners supporting NRPF households will already be assisting those that become eligible to make a homelessness application, so the new referral duty may formalise current good practice. However, there are specific requirements that practitioners must adhere to in order to comply with this duty and we will provide further guidance nearer the time of implementation. 

In the meantime, in order to prepare to comply with the duty to refer, it is advisable for social services to:

  • Establish appropriate referral and information sharing arrangements with the local housing department or district councils
  • Approach local authority housing departments in areas where NRPF households are accommodated to establish referral arrangements if out of area placements are commonly used
  • Ensure that it is standard practice for all individuals or families to be issued with termination of NRPF support notices in writing, so they are able to correctly confirm their circumstances when they are contacted directly by the housing department following a referral 
Related documents

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