Homelessness Reduction Bill: what is homelessness?

The Government recently announced it is supporting Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill and MPs voted the Bill through its second reading.  The legislation now has a good chance of becoming law sometime next year.  So how will it change things for families threatened with homelessness?

The Bill laudably aims to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place by placing new legal duties on local councils to assess every eligible applicant, regardless of priority need, and help those who are threatened with homelessness to keep their home or find an alternative.

So let’s consider what the Bill might mean for one of the 113,000 homeless households who made an official application for help to their local council last year – not to mention the 212,000 cases dealt with via housing options advice.

Let’s imagine a working mother of three living in outer London. She’s already juggling rent with child care costs when the landlord says he’s putting up the rent by £100 a month. She says she can’t manage this, so the landlord serves notice – but when she starts looking for a new home, rents have become unaffordable and letting fees present a hefty barrier.

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How will the bill help someone threatened with homelessness in this way?

Currently, the council would probably say they couldn’t do anything to help until the landlord had an eviction warrant. In the meantime tenants are left to search fruitlessly for accommodation. The Bill aims to address this by extending the definition of ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 to 56 days.

So the council would have a legal duty to help someone 56 days before they became homeless. This means the definition of homelessness is important.

The Bill changes this definition by explicitly stating that people are to be treated as homeless on the day a valid notice expires. This is very welcome and echoes the current statutory guidance.  This would mean someone served with a notice seeking possession would be entitled to help just after the notice had been given – and long before the bailiffs arrive.

But unfortunately amendments made to the draft Bill mean that in its current form, the council would only have to help if:

  • It’s ‘reasonable to suppose’ that the landlord intends to apply to the court
  • Tenants can’t ‘reasonably be expected’ to wait for a court order and the council have ‘taken reasonable steps’ to persuade the landlord to withdraw the notice or delay the court proceedings.  When assessing if it is reasonable for applicants to stay, councils must take into account the consequences (financial or otherwise) for the tenant, landlord and any other relevant people.

So back to our scenario of the homeless family. They go to the council with the notice seeking possession.  The council call the landlord, who confirms that he intends to apply for possession and can’t be persuaded out of it.  Having taken ‘reasonable steps’, the council now consider the consequences of requiring the family to remain.  Moving the family at this point will require emergency accommodation (homeless hostel) paid for at nightly rates until they can find something more suitable. This will be expensive and may be out of the area.  So they decide it’s reasonable to ask them to stay until the landlord obtains a court order.  When it expires, they’ll be homeless.

Crucially, this means that are not yet threatened with homelessness under the Bill because it’s likely to be more than 56 days before the court makes an order and it comes into force. So the family would still be in the limbo they find themselves in now, waiting for court papers (and costs) to come through the door – and still there will be no requirement for the council to help them find a new home. As Giles Peaker points out in his Nearly Legal blog, the Bill actually makes the position worse than the DCLG’s current statutory code of guidance.

The Bill’s additional clauses create a dizzying circle around its good intentions. They are also unnecessary because there is no requirement on councils under the law at present to accommodate people as soon as they are homeless – they can already ask them to remain where they are for a limited period of time rather than be placed in temporary accommodation.

By amending the definition of homelessness in this way, there is a knock-on effect on people being threatened with homelessness, when prevention duties commence.

We know the intention of the Bill is to ensure councils do more to prevent homelessness, so we hope it will be tightened up to reflect this before it receives further scrutiny in the House of Commons later this month.

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14 Comments
  1. This Bill is well meant however will not really help.
    Councils still will not have enough places to put people whenever they become techni homeless.28 or 56 days makes no difference.
    The Government are avoiding the real issue and that is to abolish section 21 entirely so that nobody can be evicted without a good reason.
    If people just go on to rent another place they could be faced with exactly the same situation just 12 months later with a new landlord.It is obvious what needs to be done here !

    1. rent controls but the government wont do that. So without the housing in areas like London I suggest that other councils in areas with vacant properties be approached to rehouse those who otherwise would be homeless. A simple solution if they would just look at anything but putting people into temporary accomodation

    2. I agree with lady who said the government is not doing more to help the issue of homelessness , a few places here and there might be ok for a handful of people .

  2. why cant the council in the instance of the woman with three children whose landlord has increased her rent by £100 a month pay the extra for her in housing benefit as £1200 a year is better than having to pay for accommodation for them all. Those who are not working I would suggest that councils in areas like the North East who have plenty of vacant properties be approached by London councils to rehouse people in other council areas and pay the removal costs of the family/person also saving large sums of money if they become homeless. There are plenty of cost effective solutions available rather than placing people into costly temporary accommodation

  3. It could be extremely difficult for a family to move to an area outside where they presently live. Friends and suppirt systems are where they live. Children wouls have to move schools and leave their friends. If.as required now, both parents or one parent was/ were working New jobs would have to be found, Would you be prepared to do that?

  4. Denise, I totally agree with you!
    £1200 pounds a year is a small price to pay to save a family from “upheaval”(understatement) ..kids being moved school, parents possibly unable to continue with work, the human side of all this matters too.
    The £1200 used as an example is small change considering the cost of dire emergency accommodation which is just awful.
    Emergency accommodation runs into thousands and for what.
    Ultimately aside from house building – rent control, use of empty buildings etc, could all go a long way to helping with this dreadful mess.
    Thank you Shelter for all your hard work.

  5. I do like the comments made by. Denice Mary J But drawback single mum. with one child Moving far away is not good. but take out The
    Take out the last six lines. then add Mary J Comments situation could be implemented. we Have people down in London. from up North Living here because. there is no work but There choice which. admiration for those Who Are working sure. they would say it’s not Nice up North.

  6. Do any councils really have lots of empty properties?

  7. I was once faced with the possibility of being homeless and it is difficult to express the stress it causes which in turn produces health problems. There is no easy solution when there is not enough council housing to fall back on. The problems have been spiralling out of control since the sale of council housing. People are forced to look in the private sector for housing. Theresa May keeps saying there will be so many more new homes built, but she doesn’t say whether these are in the Private sector. Even “Social Housing” nowadays comes under Housing Associations, and aren’t these privately owned? I sometimes wonder why the Government doesn’t make more effort in trying to REALLY provide housing. Even the idea of pre-fabricated houses is better than nothing! It worked well in the last century, so why not now? Individual families had a place to call home, with warmth and shelter, and even a garden. There are plenty of closed down industrial sites that could be used. There are also too many closed shopping areas which could be used. Could anyone give their thoughts on this?

  8. This overlooks the fact that councils don’t have the accommodation to rehouse people. Without a massive building programme of social housing and the reinstatement of the Rent Officer’s original duties – to hold rents down, including in the private sector, all this is just a waste of paper.

  9. I live in Hastings East Sussex and we have a lot of homeless folk on the street.The local council recently spent a small fortune on a silly fountain near the town centre.These poor folk are sleeping in doorways and bus shelters with their meagre belongings.I admit that the majority of them have drug or alcohol issues yet as a recovering addict myself I have a deep understanding of their plight.I feel the council should be looking at day centres/night hostels/street drug workers and general assistance for these poor folk.

  10. this is an horrendous situation and governments over the past 30 years have not had the gumption to deal with this appalling matter in a decisive and effective manner .The greedy developers sitting on land that rises in value and wont build flats until they can inflate the prices even more, We have to demand that the govt build more social housing and shared ownership , Rent controls are needes to stop the exploitation and suffering of tenants when market forces determine unaffordable rents.Take to the streets to demand your rights for a home.and protest against the Housing and Planning Act 2016 its nasty.

  11. You need to ask why are there so many rent increases and evictions? Try Section 24 – a tax on landlords that is being passed onto tenants … hence why it is known as the Tenant Tax. Kicks in in anger from April 2017 and will result in many landlords having to raise rents and sell properties (evicting tenants in the process). Shelter unfortunately supports Section 24 so maybe they need to reconsider their position!!

  12. Part II – it is estimated that 400,000 landlords will be adversely affected by Section 24. They house 4.6 million tenants. Perfect storm !!

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