Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 12: Duty in cases of threatened homelessness (the prevention duty)

Guidance on duties owed to applicants who are threatened with becoming homeless, to try and prevent their homelessness.

12.1 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 to help prevent them from becoming homelessness. This chapter provides guidance on how to fulfil the prevention duty and the ways in which it can be ended.

12.2 Housing authorities may become aware of residents who are threatened with becoming homeless but not within 56 days, and possibly not within any specified time period; and are encouraged to offer assistance where possible rather than delay providing support which may be effective in preventing homelessness.

12.3 The section 195 duty applies when the housing authority is satisfied that the applicant is both threatened with homelessness and eligible for assistance. For further guidance on eligibility see Chapter 7 and for further guidance on threatened with homelessness see Chapter 6. The housing authority is obliged to take reasonable steps to help the applicant either remains in their existing accommodation or secure alternative accommodation. For further guidance on reasonable steps see Chapter 11.

12.4 The first option to be explored with the applicant should be enabling them to remain in their current home, where suitable. Where this is not possible, the focus should be on helping to secure alternative accommodation that the applicant can move into in a planned way. This will often involve taking steps to extend an applicant’s stay in their existing accommodation until they can move.

12.5 The housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another district during the prevention duty, even if the conditions for referral that would apply during the relief and main housing duties are met. For further guidance on local connection see Chapter 10. This means the housing authority is obliged to take reasonable steps to help the applicant retain their existing accommodation or secure alternative accommodation wherever that may be. If the applicant is living at distance from the housing authority to which they have applied, one reasonable step to be agreed with the applicant might be for the receiving authority to make contact with the housing authority where the applicant is living to request their assistance in efforts to prevent homelessness.

12.6 Housing authorities may find it helpful to establish protocols for collaboration with relevant neighbouring authorities to improve outcomes and efficiency in localities where applicants frequently seek help in a different district to the one where they live.

12.7 The reasonable steps taken by both the authority and the applicant to help prevent homelessness should be those set out in the personalised housing plan drawn up and reviewed as set out in section 189A of the 1996 Act. For further guidance on personalised housing plans see Chapter 11. The housing authority will need to have arrangements in place for accessible and timely communication with applicants to maximise the effectiveness of their joint efforts to prevent homelessness.

12.8 Housing authorities must take into account the needs and circumstances of the applicant as they work to fulfil the prevention duty, recognising that there are a range of factors that will affect an applicants’ ability to take action to help prevent their homelessness. For some more vulnerable applicants, the factors that have contributed to their being threatened with homelessness may also affect their ability to work with the housing authority to resolve that threat. The housing authority will want to seek to understand these factors and tailor the support it provides, both directly and through engaging relevant specialist services, accordingly.

12.9 Where homelessness is prevented, but an applicant’s needs may put them at risk of a further threat of homelessness, the housing authority will want to work with relevant support and specialist services to help promote sustainability.

12.10 Where an applicant has to leave their accommodation without any reasonable prospect of an imminent return, or if it otherwise ceases to be reasonable for them to occupy before a suitable alternative is available, further duties should be considered under section 189B (the relief duty).