In June 20916 Tory MP Bob Blackman put forward a private member’s bill called the Homelessness Reduction Bill.
Often private members bills fall by the wayside but there is some wind assistance for this one. Government have for some time been making noises about introducing a proactive homelessness prevention duty for local authorities.
I have always had a foot in both camps of landlord and tenant law and homelessness legislation and service delivery so I tend to view it in a more connected way than some of my peers.
I actually welcome the plans, including Mr Blackman’s bill, ignoring the fact that last year he was forced to pay back MPs expenses for submitting 732 inaccurate mileage expenses. That MPs for you.
There are two details of the bill which I thought I would ponder for Landlord Law Blog readers.
Extending the period of homelessness
Firstly the intention is to extend the period in which a hopeful homelessness applicant might be deemed to actually be homeless within the meaning of the law.
Currently section 175 (4) of the Housing Act 1996 deems a person to be considered homeless if they are threatened with homelessness within the next 28 days.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill aims to extend this to 56 Days.
The reason being that many councils look to find alternatives for homelessness applicants by securing accommodation without putting people through the trauma of B&Bs and hostels or the homelessness system generally, and no I’m not talking Gatekeeping, which is avoiding putting people through the system by illegal means.
Extending the timescale to 56 days will be a genuine help to proactive local authorities.
Useful for councils in a respect but there is a sting in the tail as a further proposal within the Bill is to make it a statutory duty that the council will have to treat the threat of homeless as being triggered by the service of a notice, not the date in a possession order.
Changing the law on when homelessness is triggered
A reversal of the law as it currently stands to bring it in line with paragraph 8.32 of the homelessness code of guidance, which as I’ve written on this blog on countless occasions is simply guidance, not law.
I can foresee problems here.
If the Bill goes through and makes it a law that a council has to take on a homeless applicant merely because the landlord has served a notice then we run the risk of completely bypassing of the eviction procedure. Serve the notice and dump them on the council.
There are caveats whereby a person under threat of eviction would have to cooperate with the council’s efforts to advise and assist and if it’s wording, when published matches the code which states
“It is unlikely to be reasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy the accommodation beyond the date given in the s.21 notice, unless the housing authority is taking steps to persuade the landlord to withdraw the notice or allow the tenant to continue to occupy the accommodation for a reasonable period to provide an opportunity for alternative accommodation to be found.”
Then that may provide some respite but the principle of service of a notice creating a duty on the council to intervene, as opposed to the right to occupy being ended by due process will be a folly in extremis. If there is such a thing.
A duty to accommodate any facing street homelessness for 28 days
The second chief issue of concern with the Homelessness Reduction Bill is another proposed duty for a local authority to accommodate anyone facing street homelessness for 28 days to allow them time to find a solution to their problem.
This duty will be incumbent on a council twice a year with the same applicant.
These ideas aren’t new. The come straight out of the Welsh Government’s Housing Act 2014 but overall the Welsh system works differently to the English.
The only way that the English system of dealing with homeless cases under these new proposals without collapsing is to radically overhaul the way that homelessness is treated under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996.
Since the late 1970s the process of dealing with homelessness for a local authority is an entirely legal one.
Its rigid, fraught with complex arguments, judicial reviews, appeals, challenges and helps very few in the great scheme of things.
I have long thought that the 5 tests system of Eligibility, homelessness, priority need, intentionality and local connection should be scrapped as not fit for purpose and I’m very much in favour of taking the billions that gets poured down the black hole of homelessness services each year could be better spent in de-legalising the process and concentrating on getting out there, finding the people and the issues and engaging in creative problem solving.
I would fully support a government plan to bring in a proactive homelessness duty on local authorities but I would want to see the Homelessness Reduction Bill incorporated into a larger piece of legislation.
If it comes in as a standalone against the current system then we will see councils being further swamped and bottle-necking the problem rather than helping it.