Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 16: Securing accommodation

Guidance on the various ways in which housing authorities can secure suitable accommodation for applicants.

16.1 This chapter provides guidance on the ways in which housing authorities can ensure that suitable accommodation is available for applicants.

Securing and helping to secure accommodation

16.2 Housing authorities have various duties and powers to secure accommodation for an applicant, which require them to directly let or ensure a property owned by another landlord is made available to the applicant. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 introduced the duty to ‘help to secure’ accommodation for all applicants who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness or homeless.

16.3 ‘Helping to secure’ does not mean that the housing authority has a duty to directly find and secure the accommodation, but involves them working with applicants to agree (where possible) reasonable steps that the applicant and the housing authority can take to identify and secure suitable accommodation.

16.4 In providing ‘help to secure’, the housing authority is able to provide support and advice to households who are taking some responsibility for securing their own accommodation. This approach is intended to increase choice and control for applicants and allow the housing authority to help to resolve particular problems rather than direct resources at securing accommodation for households regardless of what assistance they need. It remains open to the housing authority to secure accommodation for eligible applicants where appropriate.

General considerations

  1. 16.5 Section 206(1) provides that a housing authority may discharge its housing functions under Part 7 in the following ways:

    1. (a) by securing that suitable accommodation provided by them is available for the applicant;

    2. (b) by securing that the applicant obtains suitable accommodation from some other person; or,

    3. (c) by giving the applicant such advice and assistance as will secure that suitable accommodation is available from some other person.

16.6 Accommodation secured must be available and suitable for occupation by the applicant and any other person who normally resides with them as a member of their family, or any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with them. Section 208(1) requires housing authorities to secure accommodation within their district, in so far as is reasonably practicable. For further guidance on suitability of accommodation see Chapter 17.

16.7 In deciding what accommodation is to be secured, housing authorities will need to consider whether the applicant has any support needs, as identified in their (section 189A) personalised housing plan, and taking in to account any additional information available from health or social care services, or from other agencies providing services to them.

16.8 Where a housing authority has a duty under section 193(2) to secure accommodation for an applicant it should consider, where availability of suitable housing allows, securing settled (rather than temporary) accommodation that will bring the duty to an end in the immediate or short term.

16.9 Housing authorities may secure accommodation by giving advice and assistance to an applicant that will secure that accommodation becomes available for them from another person (section 206(1)(c)). However, where an authority has a duty to secure accommodation, they will need to ensure that the advice and assistance provided results in suitable accommodation actually being secured. Merely assisting the applicant in any efforts that they might make to find accommodation would not be sufficient if suitable accommodation did not actually become available.

Local authority owned accommodation

16.10 Housing authorities may secure temporary accommodation through its own stock (i.e. held under Part 2 of the Housing Act 1985). In considering whether to do so authorities will need to balance the requirements of applicants owed a duty under Part 7 against the need to provide accommodation for others who have reasonable preference for an allocation under Part 6 of the 1996 Act.

16.11 Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Housing Act 1985 provides that a tenancy granted by a housing authority in pursuance of any function under Part 7 is not a secure tenancy unless the housing authority notifies the tenant that it is such. Housing authorities are reminded that the allocation of secure and introductory tenancies must be made in accordance with their allocation scheme framed under the provisions of Part 6.

Private registered provider owned accommodation

16.12 Under section 213 of the 1996 Act, where requested by a housing authority, a private registered provider must assist the housing authority in carrying out their duties under the homelessness legislation by co-operating with them as far as is reasonable in the circumstances. Private registered providers have a duty under the 1996 Act to co-operate with housing authorities in exercising their homelessness functions. Private registered providers are subject to the Regulator of Social Housing’s1 Regulatory Standards, in particular the expectation that they will co-operate with local authorities’ strategic housing function, set out in the Tenancy and Home and Community Standards.

Co-operation between social housing providers

16.13 Under section 213 other social landlords have a duty to co-operate, as far as is reasonable in the circumstances, with a housing authority in carrying out their housing functions under Part 7 of the 1996 Act, if asked to do so.

16.14 Housing authorities may be able to assist one another by providing temporary or settled accommodation for homeless applicants. Under section 213(1), where one housing authority requests another to help them discharge a function under Part 7, the other housing authority must co-operate in providing such assistance as far as is reasonable in the circumstances.

16.15 This could be particularly appropriate in the case of applicants who would be at risk of violence or serious harassment in the district of the housing authority to whom they have applied for assistance. Other housing authorities may also be able to provide accommodation in cases where the applicant has special housing needs and the other housing authority has accommodation available which is appropriate to those needs. Housing authorities are encouraged to consider entering into reciprocal and co-operative arrangements where these might prove beneficial to authorities and to applicants.

Privately owned accommodation

16.16 Housing authorities may seek the assistance of private landlords in providing suitable accommodation direct to applicants, as well as engaging them in schemes that enable applicants to find their own private rented accommodation.

16.17 A general consent under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988 (The general consent under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988 for financial assistance to any person 2010) allows housing authorities to provide financial assistance to private landlords in order to secure accommodation for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This could involve, for example, making small one-off grants (‘finders’ fees’) to landlords to encourage them to let dwellings to households owed a homelessness duty; paying rent deposits or indemnities to ensure accommodation is secured for such households; and making one-off grant payments which would prevent an eviction. There is no limit set on the amount of financial assistance that can be provided, however housing authorities are obliged to act reasonably and in accordance with their fiduciary duty to local tax and rent payers.

Private rented sector offers

16.18 Private rented accommodation can be used to prevent or relieve homelessness, or to bring the main housing duty (section 193) to an end, but in all cases enabling the applicant to exercise some choice over the accommodation offered to them is likely to increase the acceptance rate, and engage the cooperation of both applicants and landlords.

16.19 Housing authorities are encouraged to develop a private rented sector access scheme which provides opportunities for all applicants, including those who do not have a priority need, to access private rented accommodation. The level of help and support the authority is able to provide through such a scheme will vary to reflect local housing markets and available resources, but might include offers of bonds and guarantees, as well as payments towards deposits and incentives. Housing authorities will need to be mindful of the need to identify shared housing options for younger people, and will wish to work with landlords willing to provide suitable Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).

  1. 16.20 Whilst housing authorities must ensure any accommodation offered to homeless applicants is suitable, there are additional suitability requirements that apply to private rented accommodation offered under section 193(7)(F) to end the main housing duty, or secured for applicants in priority need to prevent or relieve their homelessness. Private rented sector accommodation must meet the requirements of Article 3 if it is to be considered suitable when offered:

    1. (a) to bring to an end the section 193(2) main housing duty (section 193(7F));

    2. (b) as a final accommodation offer made in the 189B relief stage (sections 193A(6) and 193C(9)); or,

    3. (c) to an applicant who has priority need, in order to prevent or relieve their homelessness.

For further guidance on the suitability of private rented sector offers see Chapter 17.

16.21 Housing authorities may make Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to help an applicant secure accommodation and to meet a shortfall between the rent and the amount of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit payable to them. However, where they do this housing authorities should take into account how sustainable any arrangement will be in the longer term when considering suitability of accommodation. Payments of DHP are governed by the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001.

16.22 Housing authorities are encouraged to secure assured shorthold tenancies of at least 12 months wherever possible, and if a private rented sector offer is being made to end the section 193 duty it must always be for a tenancy of at least 12 months and comply with other requirements of section 193(7AA).

Temporary accommodation provided by a private landlord

16.23 Section 209 governs security of tenure where a private landlord provides accommodation to assist a housing authority to discharge an interim duty. Any such accommodation is exempt from statutory security of tenure until 12 months from the date on which the applicant is notified of the authority’s decision under section 184(3) or section 198(5) or from the date on which the applicant is notified of the decision on any review under section 202 or an appeal under section 204, unless the landlord notifies the applicant that the tenancy is an assured or assured shorthold tenancy.

16.24 Where a private landlord or private registered provider lets accommodation directly to an applicant to assist a housing authority to discharge any other homelessness duty, the tenancy granted will be an assured shorthold tenancy unless the tenant is notified that it is to be regarded as an assured tenancy.

Accommodation leased from a private landlord

16.25 Accommodation leased from a private landlord can provide housing authorities with a source of good quality, self-contained accommodation which can be let to applicants. When entering into leases, as when borrowing, local authority capital finance rules require authorities to be satisfied that the associated liabilities are affordable.

16.26 Housing authorities may wish to consider contracting with private registered providers for assistance in discharging their housing functions under arrangements whereby the private registered provider leases and/or manages accommodation owned by private landlords, which can be let to households to prevent or relieve homelessness or as temporary accommodation. A general consent under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988 (The general consent under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988 for financial assistance to registered social landlords or to private landlords to relieve or prevent homelessness 2010) allows housing authorities to provide private registered providers with financial assistance in connection with such arrangements. Housing authorities must reserve the right to terminate such agreements, without penalty, after 3 years.

16.27 Housing authorities are encouraged to test approaches that would enable temporary accommodation to become settled accommodation and so reduce the uncertainty and lack of security that households in temporary accommodation can face. This could include converting private sector leased accommodation used as temporary accommodation into settled housing when the lease comes to an end. If the accommodation is suitable for the households needs, and the landlord would be prepared to let directly to them, the housing authority may wish to arrange for a section 193(7AA) private rented sector offer to end the section 193(2) duty. For further guidance on accommodation duties see Chapter 15. Similarly, where a private registered provider holds the lease of accommodation owned by a private sector landlord, the accommodation might also be offered to the applicant (if suitable) as a section 193(7AA) offer to end the main housing duty (section 193(2)).

16.28 When considering conversion of temporary into settled accommodation, the interests and needs of the household, and the affordability of the new letting arrangement for the applicant, should be taken into account before any offer is made.

Bed and breakfast accommodation

16.29 Bed and breakfast (B&B) is defined in the Homelessness Suitability Order 2003 as a form of privately owned accommodation in which residents share facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and/or toilets, and is usually paid for on a nightly basis.

16.30 Housing authorities must not use B&B to accommodate families with children or pregnant women except where there is no alternative available, and then for a maximum period not exceeding 6 weeks. Guidance states that B&B type accommodation is never suitable for 16-17 year olds.

Privately owned ‘annexe’ accommodation

16.31 Some housing authorities access the private market to secure self-contained accommodation (sometimes referred to as ‘annexe’ accommodation) for households, which is typically paid for on a nightly basis and typically involves family members sharing a large room with one another. This type of accommodation is unlikely to be suitable for families on anything but a short-term basis.

Lodgings

16.32 Lodgings provided by householders may be suitable for some applicants. Housing authorities may wish to establish a network of such landlords in their district, and might consider operating supported lodgings schemes for people with support needs, for example young people needing to gain skills for living independently.

Hostels and supported housing

16.33 Hostels and supported housing schemes may be owned and managed by local authorities, private registered providers, charities or private landlords and may be available through direct access, local referral arrangements or as direct temporary accommodation placements. The quality of accommodation provided within hostels varies considerably, and authorities should be particularly careful when securing or helping to secure accommodation with non-commissioned providers of hostel places that are not monitored or quality assessed.

16.34 Hostel accommodation typically involves some sharing of facilities, and in some hostels this includes sharing bedrooms as well as kitchens and bathing facilities.

16.35 Where hostel accommodation is used to accommodate vulnerable young people or families with children, the Secretary of State considers that it would be inappropriate to accommodate these groups alongside vulnerable adults. Housing authorities should be alert to the risks that may be associated with placing families with children, and young people, in mixed hostel settings, and should avoid doing so in circumstances where the housing authority does not have control over all of the placements.

16.36 Hostels can offer short-term accommodation to people who are experiencing homelessness, and housing authorities will wish to ensure they make the most effective use of services available, and that accommodation is suitable for the applicants placed there. Hostel accommodation that involves families or pregnant women sharing facilities with other households will not be suitable for longer-term placements.

16.37 Supported housing is usually, although not exclusively, commissioned by a local authority or other public body in order to meet the accommodation and support needs of particular groups who require such assistance. It can provide a highly valuable source of accommodation particularly for young people and for adults who need a period of stability and individual support to help them to prepare to live independently.

16.38 Housing authorities that have commissioned supported housing services will wish to keep the uptake, utilisation and move-on arrangements for these services under regular review to ensure that they meet local needs and that resources are maximised. In two-tier local authority areas, housing authorities should ensure that evidence of homelessness and support needs is available and informs commissioning priorities at upper tier level, and that there is collaboration across the districts to ensure efficient referral and move on from supported housing services. For further guidance on homelessness strategies and reviews see Chapter 2.

16.39 A placement in a short-stay hostel or supported housing scheme will be only be sufficient to meet a housing authority’s duties to prevent or relieve homelessness where there is a planned pathway to ensure that accommodation will continue to be available to them for at least 6 months.

Refuges for victims of domestic abuse

16.40 Housing authorities should develop close links with refuges within their district, and neighbouring districts, to ensure they have access to emergency accommodation for applicants who are fleeing domestic or other violence or who are at risk of such violence. Refuge placements will usually require the applicant to speak directly to the service provider, and to indicate that they want and need refuge accommodation.

16.41 Housing authorities should recognise that placing an applicant in a refuge will generally be on a short-term basis, except where a longer period of support is required to enable applicants to prepare to manage independently. Housing authorities should work together with refuge providers to ensure efficient and planned move on from refuge provision, to maximise the use of refuge spaces. For further guidance on domestic abuse see Chapter 21.

Housing First accommodation

16.42 Housing First is an approach to ending long term homelessness for people with complex needs. It has been developed specifically to meet the needs of the most challenging client groups who have previously been unable to sustain housing. Although there are some variations in approach between different providers of Housing First, the central principles include providing a home without any requirement to engage with services, flexible support available for as long as needed, enabling individuals to have choice and control, and to reduce harm.

Caravans, houseboats and other moveable accommodation

16.43 Under section 175(2) applicants are homeless if the accommodation available for their occupation is a caravan, houseboat, or other movable structure and they do not have a place where they are entitled, or permitted, to put it and live in it. If a duty to secure accommodation arises in such cases, the housing authority is not required to make equivalent accommodation available (or provide a site or berth for the applicant’s own accommodation). However, the housing authority must consider whether such options are reasonably available, particularly where this would provide the most suitable solution to the applicant’s accommodation needs.

16.44 The circumstances described in paragraph 16.43 will be particularly relevant in the case of Gypsies and Travellers. Where a duty to secure accommodation arises but an appropriate site is not immediately available, the housing authority may need to provide an alternative temporary solution until a suitable site, or some other suitable option, becomes available. Some Gypsies and Travellers may have a cultural aversion to the prospect of ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation. In such cases, the housing authority should seek to provide an alternative solution. However, where the housing authority is satisfied that there is no prospect of a suitable site for the time being, there may be no alternative solution. Housing authorities must give consideration to the needs and lifestyle of applicants who are Gypsies and Travellers when considering their application and how best to discharge a duty to secure suitable accommodation, in line with their obligations to act consistently with the Human Rights Act 1998, and in particular the right to respect for private life, family and the home; as well as their duties under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

16.45 Although mobile homes may sometimes provide emergency or short-term accommodation for applicants who do not usually occupy movable accommodation, housing authorities will need to be satisfied that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant and their household, paying particular regard to their needs, requirements and circumstances and the conditions and facilities on the site. Caravans designed primarily for short-term holiday use should not be regarded as suitable as temporary accommodation for applicants.

Tenancies for minors

16.46 There are legal complications associated with the grant of a tenancy to a minor because a minor cannot hold a legal estate in land. In most cases a 16-17 year old who has become homeless will be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and/or through provision of supported housing or supported lodgings, and will not be ready to manage their own tenancy until they reach adulthood. If housing authorities are securing accommodation for 16-17 year olds within social housing or private rented stock there will need to be sufficient support in place, and a license agreement may be more appropriate depending on the arrangements in place. Where a minor is considered able to manage a tenancy independently this could be granted to a minor and held on trust. Authorities will need to take into account how the terms of any tenancy will be enforced in the event that there is a breach in tenancy conditions.

Footnotes

  1. The regulation of social housing is the responsibility of the Regulation Committee, a statutory committee of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). The organisation refers to itself as the Regulator of Social Housing in undertaking the functions of the Regulation Committee. References in any enactment or instrument to the Regulator of Social Housing are references to the HCA acting through the Regulation Committee. Homes England is the trading name of the HCA’s non-regulation functions.