Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 13: Relief duty

Guidance on duties owed to applicants who are homeless, to try and relieve their homelessness.

13.1 Section 189B of the 1996 Act – the ‘relief duty’ – requires housing authorities to help people who are homeless to secure accommodation. This chapter of the code provides guidance on how to fulfil the relief duty.

13.2 The duty applies when the housing authority is satisfied that the applicant is both homeless and eligible for assistance. The housing authority is obliged to take reasonable steps to help the applicant secure suitable accommodation with a reasonable prospect that it will be available for their occupation for at least 6 months.

13.3 Where the housing authority have reason to believe that an applicant may be homeless, eligible and have a priority need they must provide interim accommodation under section 188(1) whilst fulfilling the relief duty. For further guidance on interim duties to accommodate see Chapter 15.

13.4 If the housing authority would be subject to the relief duty but consider that the conditions are met for referral to another housing authority in England (not Scotland or Wales) they have the discretion to notify that housing authority of their opinion (section 198(A1)). For further guidance on local connection see Chapter 10.

13.5 The reasonable steps to be taken by both the housing authority and the applicant to help secure accommodation must include those set out in the personalised housing plan drawn up and reviewed as set out in section 189A. For further guidance on assessments and 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.

13.6 Housing authorities must take into account their assessment of the applicant’s case under section 189A (which includes consideration of an applicant’s housing needs, circumstances leading to homelessness, and support required) as they work to fulfil the relief duty, recognising that there are a range of factors that will affect an applicant’s ability to take action to secure accommodation. For some applicants, the circumstances, needs or issues that have contributed to their being homeless may also affect their ability to work with the housing authority. The housing authority’s duty to have regard to the applicant’s section 189A assessment will assist the authority with understanding the applicant’s particular situation and tailoring the support it provides under the relief duty, both directly and through engaging relevant specialist services, accordingly.

  1. 13.7 Housing authorities will want to ensure that people who are sleeping rough and eligible for assistance are supported to apply to them for housing assistance, and should seek to prevent applicants from starting to sleep rough during the course of the relief duty. For further guidance on joint working to address rough sleeping see the homelessness strategy see Chapter 2 and for further guidance on personalised plans see Chapter 11. Specific considerations in relation to applicants who are (or are at imminent risk of) sleeping rough and are or may be owed the relief duty include:

    1. (a) working with other agencies and/or commissioned services to ensure rough sleepers are aware of, and have support to seek, housing assistance from the authority and in the provision of appropriate accommodation and/or support;

    2. (b) if the authority does not have reason to believe that the applicant may have a priority need and has not therefore provided interim accommodation under section 188(1), the use of discretionary powers to secure emergency accommodation to prevent nights on the streets, taking into account the risk of harm applicants may face. For further guidance on discretionary powers to secure emergency accommodation see Chapter 15;

    3. (c) if using discretion to enquire into whether an applicant has a local connection, remembering that normal residence does not require a settled address and may include periods sleeping rough. For further guidance on local connection see Chapter 10.

13.8 Where homelessness is relieved, but an applicant’s needs, as set out in the personalised housing plan, may put them at risk of a further threat of homelessness, the housing authority should work with relevant support and specialist services to help promote sustainability.

13.9 Housing authorities may conduct and complete their inquiries into the duties that will be owed to an applicant under section 193(2), the main housing duty during the period in which they are attempting to relieve homelessness under the section 189B duty. However, this activity must not detract from the housing authority’s work to relieve the applicant’s homelessness. Where the housing authority considers an applicant is unlikely to be owed a section 193(2) main housing duty they must not limit or reduce the assistance they provide during the relief duty for this reason.

13.10 Housing authorities are advised against issuing a section 184 notification accepting the section 193 (main housing duty) during the relief stage. The section 193 duty cannot commence until the relief duty has come to an end and issuing notification during the relief stage might detract from activities to relieve their homelessness.

13.11 Housing authorities may issue a section 184 decision to the applicant, that when the relief duty ends they will owe them a duty under section 190 because they have a priority need but are intentionally homeless. Although the section 190 duty cannot commence until the relief duty has come to an end, the authority may wish to alert an applicant that the main housing duty will not be owed. It may be beneficial to review the personalised housing plan at this point to help maximise joint efforts to relieve homelessness.

13.12 If the authority has provided interim accommodation under section 188 and subsequently finds that the applicant does not have a priority need during the relief duty stage, a section 184 notification that neither the main housing duty nor the section 190 duty will be owed once the relief duty ends will bring the section 188 duty to an end (section 188(1ZA)(b)). The relief duty will continue to be owed until it ends in one of the circumstances in subsections (7) or (9) of section 189B. For further guidance on interim duties to accommodate see Chapter 15, and for guidance on ending the prevention and relief duty see Chapter 14.