England's homelessness legislation has been significantly reformed by The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which came into force on the 3rd April, 2018.
The Act places duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness, irrespective of whether or not an applicant has 'priority need' or may be 'intentionally homeless'.
A revised Homelessness code of Guidance for Local Authorities accompanies the Act and contains information specific to the Armed Forces community.
There are five key changes:
1. The provision of free information and advice on preventing and relieving homelessness and the rights of homeless people, to all residents, to include information tailored to the needs of particularly vulnerable groups.
Everyone in a local housing authority's district should be able to access free information and advice on:
- Securing accommodation when homeless.
- The rights of people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, and the duties of the authority,
- Any help that is available from the authority or anyone else.
- How to access that help.
Services providing advice and information must be designed to meet the needs of particular specifically mentioned groups in the authority's district, including "former members of the regular armed forces." (Homelessness Code of Guidance, 2018, paragraph 3.5, page 32-33)
Housing authorities can contract out advisory services so they are provided by other organisations.
2. An enhanced prevention duty extends the period a household is threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days, meaning that local authorities will intervene to prevent homelessness at an earlier stage.
The period 'threatened with homelessness' is extended; a person is threatened with homelessness if they are likely to become homeless within 56 days.
3. New duties to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible people, regardless of priority need and intentionality.
All eligible people who are found to be homeless or threatened with homelessness will be entitled to more tailored support from the housing authority, regardless of priority need and intentionality. Support to prevent homelessness is available to everyone regardless of local connection.
4. An enhanced duty on the council to carry out an assessment in all cases where an eligible applicant is homeless, or threatened with homelessness. This is regardless of whether there is any priority need or possible intentional homelessness.
Housing authorities will conduct an assessment with all eligible applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness and develop with them a personalised housing plan. The assessment should include:
- The circumstances that caused the applicant to become homeless or threatened with homelessness.
- What housing the applicant needs, and what accommodation would be suitable.
- Whether the applicant needs support to obtain and keep accommodation.
The assessment of an applicant's support needs should be holistic and comprehensive. The personalised housing plan will set out the steps the individual and the housing authority must take for the individual to remain in or find suitable accommodation.
Examples of this include, but are not limited to, mediation/conciliation, providing financial support to access private rented accommodation and 'helping to secure or securing an immediate safe place to stay for people who are sleeping rough or at high risk of sleeping rough.'
5. Encouraging public bodies to work together to prevent and relieve homelessness through a duty to refer.
Public bodies in England will have a duty to refer an individual's case (with consent) to a housing authority they identify.
The duty provides an 'impetus to develop effective referral arrangements and accommodation pathways that involve all relevant agencies to provide appropriate jointly planned help and support to prevent homelessness.'
This includes the Secretary of State for Defence who "is required to refer members of the regular forces in England he considers may be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days to a local housing authority, with the individual's consent." (Homelessness Code of Guidance, 2018, paragraph 24.4, page 178)
6. Support for former members of the armed forces
The new code of guidance now contains a chapter specifically detailing the support that should be provided to former members of the Regular Armed Forces. This is located in pages 178-180 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance. Which include information on:
- Advice and information provided by local authorities must be designed to meet the needs of former members of the regular Armed Forces.
- Veterans required to leave service accommodation can provide a Certificate of Cessation of Entitlement to Occupy Service Accommodation six months before discharge as proof of being threated with homelessness.
- Further information on the definition of "A person who is vulnerable as a result of having been a member of Her Majesty's regular armed forces" is provided.
- Service personnel required to vacate service quarters as a result of taking up an option to leave the service are not to be considered intentionally homeless.
- Members of the Armed Forces can establish a local connection through residence or employment in the same way as a civilian.
See more detail on Statutory homelessness in England: House of Commons Library, February 2018, Statutory homelessness in England