Understanding the Homelessness Reduction Act, 2017.
The Homelessness Reduction Act is a law which aims to reduce homelessness by providing help to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Here we will explain what the Act means and look at its success and failures.
What is the Homelessness Reduction Act?
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into operation in 2018.
The overall aim of the Homelessness Reduction Act is to ensure that everyone who is at risk of homelessness, or who is homeless, is legally entitled to meaningful help from their local authority regardless of their current status. It does this by defining the service that local councils and other public bodies must provide to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Another important principle of the Homelessness Reduction Act is that councils must work to avoid people becoming homeless in the first place. They are also able and required to provide that help at an earlier stage than previously, with the objective that this will decrease the likelihood that people will become homeless.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 applies in England. It added to and amended the Homelessness Act 2002. Different laws apply to homelessness policies in Scotland and also in Wales.
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What the Homelessness Reduction Act Means
Like most laws, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is complex. However here are the main ways in which it contributes to homelessness legislation.
Local housing authorities (which are the local council) must provide homelessness services to all those affected not just those who have what is considered to be a priority need. They have a duty to provide information to everyone. They must give proper consideration to all applications for housing assistance and make inquiries to see if they have a duty to help. This was a change from the previous situation where local authorities only had to help those at risk of homelessness if they considered them to be a priority.
Housing authorities have a duty to carry out an assessment of the situation and work with the affected person to develop a Personalised Housing Plan or PHP. This should include reasonable steps to be taken by the authority and individual to prevent or relieve homelessness.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 amended the period from which a person can be considered to be at risk of homelessness from 28 days to 56 days. This meant that housing authorities must work with people to prevent homelessness at an earlier stage. This is known as the extended prevention duty.
This also means that local authorities must assist those who are already homeless to relieve their homelessness for a period of at least 56 days. This is known as the relief duty.
Housing authorities have a duty to take reasonable steps to help prevent any eligible person from becoming homeless by helping them to remain in their current home or assisting them to find a new home before they become homeless.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 introduced a duty of referral on certain public authorities to (with the individual’s consent) refer service users who they think may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to a housing authority. Local housing authorities must work effectively with these bodies. These public bodies can include prisons, hospitals, probation services and Jobcentre Plus for example.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 amended the law so that young people leaving care are considered as having a local connection to the local area where they were looked after.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021: The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 made some changes to homelessness legislation. This Act grants "priority need" to all eligible victims of domestic abuse who are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse. It also introduces a new definition of domestic abuse.
Successes and Failures of the Homelessness Reduction Act
Here we will consider to what extent the Homelessness Reduction Act has succeeded or failed in its objectives.
- More people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness have become entitled to help with their situation. The Homelessness Reduction Act means that local authorities cannot decide who they are willing to help and who they are not. It means that no one who is homeless or at risk of homelessness should be unable to obtain help.
- The Act does not mean that all homeless people are entitled to be or are provided with a home.
- The Homelessness Reduction Act has overburdened the system in some areas. Some local authorities are struggling to provide the help they are now required to provide.
- It has exacerbated funding problems, as local authorities often do not have the money to provide the service they are expected to. The initial funding to support the new law has now ended.
- People who are at risk of becoming homeless can receive help at an earlier point before they actually become homeless rather than having to wait until they are homeless. It is thought that if people at risk receive help before they become homeless they are less likely to actually become homeless at all. It has introduced a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach to homelessness which did not exist before.
- It has possibly increased the use of temporary accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs, in order to house homeless people. This type of accommodation is not always very suitable for the type of homeless people councils are able to house (such as families with children) and it is expensive for local authorities to provide.
- It has shown that there is a severe lack of affordable housing in many places.
- It has made local authorities increasingly reliant on the private sector to provide housing for homeless people since local authorities are unable to provide it themselves. This has created additional problems. For example, some private landlords are reluctant to house those on benefits.
- The service available can be inconsistent, depending on the ability and finances of the particular local authority. Getting help under the Homelessness Reduction Act can be something of a postcode lottery.
Homelessness Targets – Have They Been Met?
This report quoting research conducted by ICF Consulting Services Ltd. in association with Kantar Public and Heriot-Watt University offers some further insight into the success and failure of the Homelessness Reduction Act. Just over half of local authority respondents said their service has improved for people who would previously have received limited homelessness support since the introduction of the Act. Almost a third of councils strongly agreed that the extended prevention duty enabled them to prevent homelessness more effectively.
Homelessness is not necessarily the same as rough sleeping. However, in the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party made a commitment to halve rough sleeping over the course of that parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027. In 2019 they committed to eliminating it altogether by 2024.
This official report for autumn 2021 says that the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night fell for the fourth year in a row from its peak in 2017. It adds that there were 2,440 people estimated to be sleeping rough in England on a single night in autumn 2021. This was down by 9% from 2020 and down 49% from the peak in 2017 but was up by 38% (or 670 people) since 2010.
In summary, it might be fair to say that The Homelessness Reduction Act has tackled the problem of help not being available, but it has not tackled the problem of housing not being available.