Government seeks views for crackdown on unfair agents

The Government has launched a consultation on a draft Code of Guidance for Local Authorities exercising their new homelessness duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which will commence in April 2018.

The Homelessness Reduction Act was designed to significantly reform England’s homelessness legislation by placing 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’. The new duties include:

- Providing 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
- 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.
- A new duty for those who are already homeless will mean that local authorities will work with them for 56 days to help secure accommodation to relieve their homeless.

Under section 175(4) of the amended Housing Act 1996, a person is “threatened with homelessness” if they are likely to become homeless within 56 days. Under section 175(5), a person is also threatened with homelessness if a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 has been issued in respect of the only accommodation available for their occupation, and the notice will expire within 56 days.

Section 195 of the 1996 Act – the ‘prevention duty’ - places a duty on housing authorities to work with people who are threatened with homelessness within 56 days and must take reasonable steps to help prevent them from becoming homelessness.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance provides direction on how local authorities should exercise their homelessness functions and apply the law in practice. It also applies to local housing and social services authorities, who are required to have regard to the guidance in exercising their functions in relation to homelessness.

With the new duties commencing in April next year it remains to be seen whether the Act, along with this Code of Guidance, stops local authorities from advising tenants to stay in the property until evicted by bailiffs. The all too common policy, which was advised against in the previous iteration of homelessness guidance but ignored, is potentially financially ruinous to landlords with NLA research showing it costs landlords an average of £6,750 to regain possession under those circumstances.

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