Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities

Chapter 3: Advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness

Guidance on housing authority duties to provide free advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness, and to ensure they design advice to meet the needs of particular vulnerable groups.

3.1 Housing authorities have a duty to provide or secure the provision of advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness, free of charge. These services will form part of the offer to applicants who are also owed other duties under Part 7, for example the prevention and relief duties. They must also be available to any other person in their district, including people who are not eligible for further homelessness services as a result of their immigration status. The provision of up to date, comprehensive, tailored advice and information will play an important part in delivering the housing authority’s strategy for preventing homelessness.

3.2 Housing authorities may wish to consider providing information for those who are ineligible for further homelessness services on how to access any other assistance available in the area, for example through charitable or faith groups.

  1. 3.3 Under section 179(1) of the 1996 Act, authorities must provide information and advice on:

    1. (a) preventing homelessness;

    2. (b) securing accommodation when homeless;

    3. (c) the rights of people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, and the duties of the authority;

    4. (d) any help that is available from the authority or anyone else for people in the authority’s district who are homeless or may become homeless (whether or not they are threatened with homelessness); and,

    5. (e) how to access that help.

  1. 3.4 Early applications for homelessness assistance maximise the time and opportunities available to prevent homelessness. Information provided through authorities’ websites and other channels should therefore:

    1. (a) help enable people to take action themselves where possible; and,

    2. (b) actively encourage them to seek assistance from the authority in good time if they need it.

  1. 3.5 Section 179(2) states that housing authorities must design advice and information services to meet the needs of people within their district including, in particular, the needs of the following groups:

    1. (a) people released from prison or youth detention accommodation;

    2. (b) care leavers;

    3. (c) former members of the regular armed forces;

    4. (d) victims of domestic abuse;

    5. (e) people leaving hospital;

    6. (f) people suffering from a mental illness or impairment; and,

    7. (g) any other group that the authority identify as being at particular risk of homelessness in their district.

3.6 Housing authorities will need to work with other relevant statutory and non-statutory service providers to identify groups who are at particular risk and to develop appropriate provision that is accessible to those who are likely to need it. In some circumstances tailored advice and information will be best delivered in a targeted and planned way when it is most likely to be needed – for example, in preparation for leaving care, being discharged from hospital or being released from custody, but it should also be widely accessible as a universal service. Appropriate provision will need to be made to ensure accessibility for people with particular needs, including those with mobility difficulties, sight or hearing loss and learning difficulties, as well as those for whom English is not their first language.

  1. 3.7 Many people concerned about a risk of homelessness will be seeking practical advice and assistance to help them remain in their accommodation or secure alternative accommodation. Advice on the following issues may help to prevent people from becoming threatened with homelessness:

    1. (a) tenants’ rights and rights of occupation;

    2. (b) what to do about harassment and threats of illegal eviction;

    3. (c) rights to benefits including assistance with making claims as required;

    4. (d) how to protect and retrieve rent deposits;

    5. (e) rent and mortgage arrears;

    6. (f) how to manage debt;

    7. (g) help available to people at risk of violence and abuse;

    8. (h) grants available for housing repair and/or adaptation;

    9. (i) how to obtain accommodation in the private rented sector – e.g. details of landlords and letting agents within the district, any accreditation schemes, and information on rent guarantee and deposit schemes;

    10. (j) how to apply for social housing; and,

    11. (k) how to access shared-ownership or other low cost home ownership schemes.

  1. 3.8 The legislation does not specify how housing authorities should ensure that advice and information on homelessness and the prevention of homelessness are made available. They could do this in a number of ways, for example:

    1. (a) provide the service themselves;

    2. (b) ensure that it is provided by another organisation; or,

    3. (c) ensure that it is provided in partnership with another organisation.

For further guidance on contracting out homelessness functions see Chapter 5.

  1. 3.9 Under section 179(3), housing authorities may give grants or loans to other persons who are providing advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness on behalf of the housing authority. Under section 179(4), housing authorities may also assist such persons (e.g. voluntary organisations) by:

    1. (a) allowing them to use premises belonging to the housing authority;

    2. (b) making available furniture or other goods, by way of gift, loan or some other arrangement; and,

    3. (c) making available the services of staff employed by the housing authority.

3.10 Housing authorities should monitor the provision of advisory services to ensure they continue to meet the needs of all sections of the community and help deliver the aims of their homelessness strategy.