Evidence base for preventing homelessness and rough sleeping strategy

12. Homelessness – legislative background

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) 2017 introduced significant legislative changes into how local authorities responded to homelessness. Whilst the legislation reflected the way working practices were evolving to emphasise the prevention of homelessness, the new duties bought significant additional work and financial pressures. Prior to the HRA, a statutory duty to a homelessness household only crystallised where they were shown to be at risk of becoming homeless in the next 28 days, priority need (either because there were children in the household or because of a significant need that would make finding accommodation more difficult) and not intentionally homeless. Although the statutory duty was to procure accommodation, the majority of households where a statutory duty was accepted went into social rented housing.

Since the HRA, the duty to initially prevent homelessness where possible applies to all households, regardless of intentionality or priority need. The prevention duty focuses on keeping people in their existing homes or facilitating a planned move where this is not possible. If homelessness cannot be prevented, there is a duty to relieve homelessness by supporting the household to find alternative accommodation. A significant number of homeless households now go into the private rented sector, although social rented housing and in particular supported housing also play key roles.

The HRA also introduced a ‘duty to refer’ for specified public sector bodies to refer clients who are at risk of becoming homeless. The specified bodies include prisons, probation, job centres, social services and hospitals