We welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed technical changes to homelessness legislation following Renter’s Reform as this may have an impact on the way homelessness services carry out their duties. The findings of this response are based on a workshop held with around 20 volunteer local authorities who were presented with the various options for legislative change and asked for comment.
- Some local authorities are supportive of the flexibility offered within Option 1 – both in terms of accepting duties to help households as quickly as possible and for ascertaining whether the serving of a notice necessarily reflects that a household is threatened with homelessness. However, there are some concerns that this may be implemented inconsistently across the country and that a robust code of guidance, support from central government, and adequate funding for homelessness services will be required to ensure successful implementation.
- Some local authorities are supportive of Option 2 due to the clarity of the definition, but there are some serious concerns over the length of time cases may be active due to the time required to wait to be heard at court. Renter’s Reform should reduce the number of notices being served; however local authorities are unsure how this will play out in practice and would resoundingly prefer the flexibility in Option 1 around discharging duties.
- Local authorities are not supportive of Option 3 as this is too prescriptive.
- Local authorities are supportive of the removal of the reapplication duty as they agree that the increased security of tenure and removal of section 21 evictions means the reapplication duty will no longer be relevant and that all new applications should be viewed and assessed considering the household’s current circumstances.
The consequential amendments and proposed options
Q1a. What will be the impact of option 1 on local authority resourcing? Please provide comments for your answer.
Option 1 is the most flexible of the options as it allows local authorities to have control over when a duty to help prevent homelessness is accepted and when it can be discharged. Therefore, the impact of option 1 on local authority resources should be minimal as they reflect their current practices under the new legislation.
This option also more accurately represents how some councils are working in terms of accepting homelessness duties as early as possible, regardless of whether applicants have been served a valid Section 21 notice or not. It also gives councils the flexibility to avoid accepting a duty if they have reason to believe a notice served will not necessarily result in homelessness, for example if the applicant is financially equipped to assist themselves or if the grounds the notice has been served on is unlikely to result in homelessness.
Due to a lack of resource or capacity in some areas, this may create an inconsistent approach nationally which results in more presentations in the areas where councils are more able to accept homelessness duties. There is a concern from some councils that this approach may lead to higher workloads for some authorities, especially as a local connection is not required in the acceptance of a prevention duty. A robust Code of Guidance may help tackle this issue as well as adequate resourcing and support for councils who are facing increasing homelessness pressures.
Q1b. What will be the impact of option 1 on local authority caseloads? Please provide comments for your answer.
The flexibility of option 1 should give local authorities greater control over their caseloads as the decision sits with the case officer as to whether a duty is accepted and when it is discharged. However, it may also put more onus on the investigation element of the housing needs assessment while an officer determines whether a homelessness duty should be owed as opposed to the automatic duty which is currently triggered upon receipt of a valid Section 21 notice, therefore this may increase the number of cases held in triage.
Ultimately, this could lead to either an increase or a decrease in prevention duties accepted depending on the approach of the individual authority. Option 1 may also encourage councils to offer quicker housing options outside of the statutory legislation.
As mentioned in Q1a, an inconsistent approach nationally may result in some authorities having a higher caseload, therefore any rollout of option 1 will need to be supported by a robust Code of Guidance and adequate support and resourcing from central government.
Q1c. What will be the impact of option 1 on the demand on time for local authority staff? Please provide comments for your answer.
Option 1 is unlikely to have much impact on time for local authority staff as local authorities will likely use the flexibility within Option 1 to fit alongside their current practice and processes. Some local authorities may take the opportunity to start working with some households earlier than they would have done which could lead to an increase in demand, however this would be down to each local authority as opposed to an obligation due to a change in legislation.
Q1d. What will be the impact of option 1 on homelessness prevention activity and success rates within local authorities? Please provide comments for your answer.
Option 1 is unlikely to have much impact on homelessness prevention activity as local authorities will interpret the legislation to reflect their current practice. However, the way preventions are recorded may change if some local authorities use the change in legislation to open and close cases in triage with some quick advice to prevent homelessness as opposed to accepting a full duty to help prevent. As the Homelessness Prevention Grant funding formula will be linked to prevention duties, if the number of active prevention duties decrease this may have an impact on funding and is something local authorities will need to be mindful of.
There may be a negative impact on homelessness prevention activity if local authorities do not accept a duty where they ordinarily would have under current legislation, though this is only likely to happen where services are struggling due to increasing pressures and presentations.
Q1e. Do you have any additional comments on the impacts of option 1 which have not been covered in your response to Q1a-d? Yes/No. If yes, please provide comments for your answer.
Local authorities will always endeavour to assist as many households as they can, and the spirit of the Homelessness Reduction Act means that local authorities are already opening cases as soon as possible and helping as many households as they can. However, the cost-of-living crisis and demands from various angles such as the new arrival and refugee schemes and issues with recruitment and retention means that homelessness services are coming under increasing pressures. A lack of social housing and a private rented sector that is unaffordable for many households in receipt of housing benefit also means that in some cases housing options are insufficient. Option 1 may ensure councils can prioritise their work more effectively to address pressures, however without adequate funding and a cross departmental commitment to preventing homelessness, this prioritisation may lead in some areas to a focus on emergency cases as opposed to the upstream prevention work that local authorities would prefer to be doing. To ensure successful implementation, government will need to address the drivers and levers of homelessness within central policy such as Local Housing Allowance rates and ensure an adequate funding regime that reflects those pressures.
Local authorities also noted that there are many reasons as to why a household could be threatened with homelessness as opposed to just being served a notice and therefore the more encompassing wording allows for this flexibility.
Q2a. What will be the impact of option 2 on local authority resourcing? Please provide comments for your answer.
It is hard to predict the impact of option 2 on local authority resourcing as its difficult to foresee how many Section 8 notices will be served under the new legislation. Some local authorities feel that landlords may try to replace Section 21 notices with Section 8 notices and that enforcement will be an important element to ensure successful implementation in the spirit of the bill. Local authorities are keen to hear how landlords will be disincentivised for example, to re-let the home within three months where a notice was served on the grounds of selling the home.
However, this option is most like the current legislation in terms of an automatic acceptance of the prevention duty upon receipt of a valid notice and theoretically, if there is a drastic reduction in the number of notices served this may have a positive or negligible impact on local authority resourcing. There are concerns that the length of cases may increase as officers are unable to discharge the duty if the notice is still active and they may take a long time to move through the court process. Local authorities noted that sometimes landlords may serve a notice without applying to the courts for a warrant, which could mean in some cases where negotiations fail that case lengths may become excessive.
Q2b. What will be the impact of option 2 on local authority caseloads? Please provide comments for your answer.
As previously alluded, because Section 8 notices take longer to hear in court, if the number of notices doesn’t reduce drastically upon implementation of the act this may lead to a larger number of longer cases which would have a negative impact on caseloads. Local authorities would prefer to have the flexibility to discharge the duty similar to Option 1 to prevent this and would like some reassurance and information on the capacity of the courts to address a potential increase in the number of served Section 8 notices.
Q2c. What will be the impact of option 2 on the demand on time for local authority staff? Please provide comments for your answer.
Longer cases may have a significant impact on demand on time for local authority staff. A larger caseload because of longer cases may also have a detrimental impact on caseload management, especially considering the recruitment and retention issues some local authorities are reporting. One way to mitigate this would be to ensure the discharging of the duty is flexible, as suggested in option 1.
Q2d. What will be the impact of option 2 on homelessness prevention activity and success rates within local authorities? Please provide comments for your answer.
Option 2 is unlikely to have an impact on homelessness prevention activity, but an increase in section 8’s may lead to more targeted prevention work according to which ground the Section is served on, though this would be the case for all three options. Prevention work may become more about how to defend a Section 8 in court by taking actions towards addressing arrears, defending anti-social behaviour etc. as opposed to providing information about how to move on into the private rented or social sector.
Q2e. Do you have any additional comments on the impacts of option 2 which have not been covered in your response to Q2a-d? Yes/No. If yes, please provide comments for your answer.
Some local authorities noted that just because a Section 8 is active does not mean the household continues to be threatened with homelessness and therefore discharging this duty should always be at the discretion of local authorities. We did not find any support for this element of Option 2.
Local authorities also mentioned that some landlords may serve a Section 8 even if they are unable to act on the grounds in order to trigger a duty with the local authority which they will not be able to discharge.
Q3a. What will be the impact of option 3 on local authority resourcing? Please provide comments for your answer.
Local authorities are not supportive of option 3 as they don’t believe it adds any value to Option 2 other than to make it even more prescriptive. Presumably, the rationale for these amendments is because these cases are unlikely to be prevented and more likely to result in homelessness, however these decisions are better made by the officers who are handling the case who will need to understand the grounds on which the notice is served to help prevent homelessness.
Q3b. What will be the impact of option 3 on local authority caseloads? Please provide comments for your answer.
As mentioned in Q2b, similarly to option 2, because Section 8 notices take longer to hear in court, if the number of notices doesn’t reduce drastically upon implementation of the act this may lead to a larger number of longer cases which would have a negative impact on caseloads. Though in likelihood the narrowing down of the grounds which would require an automatic duty acceptance mean this may lead to fewer cases, in some areas where move on is harder due to an unaffordable private rented market and a lack of available social housing, this may lead to an increase in longevity for some cases.
Q3c. What will be the impact of option 3 on the demand on time for local authority staff? Please provide comments for your answer.
As is the case with Option 2, longer cases may have a significant impact on demand on time for local authority staff. However, the inclusion of only a few grounds may mitigate this slightly and the housing options provided may focus more on move-on if it’s assumed that the household will not be able to remain in the property.
Q3d. What will be the impact of option 3 on homelessness prevention activity and success rates within local authorities? Please provide comments for your answer.
As previously mentioned in Option 2, Option 3 is unlikely to have an impact on homelessness prevention activity, but an increase in section 8’s may lead to more targeted prevention work according to which ground the Section is served on though this would be the case for all three options.
Q3e. Do you have any additional comments on the impacts of option 3 which have not been covered in your response to Q3a-d? Yes/No. If yes, please provide comments for your answer.
Although this legislation reduces the number of cases which would require an automatic duty acceptance and therefore a more stringent discharge policy, councils were not supportive of this option as they believed it to be too prescriptive for homelessness services.
Q4. Do you have any comments on the proposed option to remove the reapplication duty from the homelessness legislation? Yes/No/Don’t Know. Please provide comments for your answer.
Local authorities are resoundingly supportive of the proposed option to remove the reapplication duty from the homelessness legislation. Further protections on renters in the private sector should ensure that less people are arbitrarily evicted from their homes without a reason. Therefore, it is right that local authorities should reassess households at the point that they become threatened with homelessness again following an applicant becoming threatened with homelessness less than two years after accepting a private rented offer from the local authority.
Q5a. Do you have any comments on the proposed approach to minor technical changes? Yes/No/Don’t know. Please give your comments.
Q6. Do you think that any of the proposed changes could give rise to any impacts on people who share a protected characteristic? Yes/No/Don’t know. Please give your comments.