Homelessness Reduction Act: The Duty to Refer: A Guide for Public Bodies

 

Please find below the guidance for public bodies wishing to refer persons at risk of homelessness.
If you simply require the referral form then please click on the link below. This link is also displayed at the end of each section of the guidance and in the FAQ page

Public bodies homelessness referral form

In addition to the guidance below we have provided an FAQ section to assist in the process.
You can access this from the link below or via the link in the panel to the side of the page.

Duty to refer FAQ

 

Sections in this guidance (click on the links to go straight to relevant section)

Introduction

Public bodies with a Duty to Refer

Requirements of the Duty to Refer

Identifying when a referral might be required

Choosing which local authority to refer to

Obtaining Consent

Process for referrals
 

Introduction

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 significantly reformed England’s homelessness legislation by placing duties on local housing authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas, and to provide homelessness services to all those who are eligible. Additionally, the Act introduced a duty on specified public authorities to refer service users who they think may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to local authority homelessness/housing options teams. This duty is effective from 1 October 2018 when the list of public authorities comes into force.

The Duty to Refer will help to ensure that services are working together effectively to prevent homelessness by ensuring that peoples’ housing needs are considered when they come into contact with public authorities. It is also anticipated that it will encourage local housing authorities and other public authorities to build strong partnerships which enable them to work together to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness through increasingly integrated services.

This guidance is designed for those working in specified public authorities, which have a duty to refer. If you work for a public authority which is not subject to the duty you can still make a referral.  It will help these authorities identify service users who may be homeless or are at risk of homelessness, and explains how to refer the service user to a local housing authority. Local housing authorities are encouraged to consult chapter four of the Homelessness Code of Guidancefor further information on their role in maximising the benefits from the Duty to Refer.

Throughout this guidance we have used the generic term ‘service user’ to describe the people who come into contact with public services.  

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Public bodies with a Duty to Refer

The specified public authorities subject to the Duty to Refer are:

  • Prisons
  • Young offender institutions
  • Secure training centres
  • Secure colleges
  • Youth offending teams
  • Probation services (including community rehabilitation companies)
  • Secretary of State for defence in relation to members of the regular armed forces
  • Jobcentre Plus
  • Social service authorities
  • Emergency departments
  • Urgent treatment centres
  • Hospitals in their function of providing inpatient care

The Duty to Refer only applies to the specified public authorities in England and individuals can only be referred to a local housing authority in England.

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Requirements of the Duty to Refer

The new duty requires specified public authorities to identify and refer their service users who are homeless or may be threatened with homelessness, to a local housing authority of the service users choice. The service user must consent to the referral being made. The consent can be made in writing or given orally. 

A person is considered homeless if:

  • they do not have any accommodation which is available for them  which they have a legal right to occupy; or
  • it is not  reasonable for them to occupy their current accommodation, for example because they would be at risk of domestic abuse
  • Someone is defined as being threatened with homelessness where they are likely to become homeless within 56 days, or have been served with a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 by their landlord which expires within 56 days.

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Identifying when a referral might be required

Staff  in public authorities will usually know if a service user is sleeping rough and therefore actually homeless. They may also become aware of service users who are homeless but not roofless (sometimes described as ‘sofa surfers’) if they provide ‘care of’ addresses or frequently change their address.

Identifying that a family, couple or individual is threatened with homelessness is less straight forward. The following are factors that would indicate that a service user may be threatened with homelessness and should be asked about their housing circumstances:

  • problems with debt, particularly rent or mortgage arrears
  • problems with a landlord, being threatened with eviction or served notice to leave
  • being a victim of domestic abuse, or other forms of violence, threats or intimidation
  • approaching discharge from hospital, armed forces or release from custody, with no accommodation available to them
  • having previously been in care, the armed forces or in prison

    back to top     Public bodies homelessness referral form

 

Choosing which local authority to refer to

The duty allows service users to choose which local housing authority they are referred to. However, when discussing the referral and offering guidance to the service user, it is important to be aware that local housing authorities owe more duties towards homeless applicants who have a local connection with their area, and so a local housing authority might subsequently refer on to another local housing authority somebody who is homeless and applying to them for help.

Generally speaking, a service user is likely to have a local connection to an area if they are a resident, work there or have a close family connection.

In addition to the usual rules about local connection, care leavers have special provision. This provides that where the service user is a care leaver aged 18-21, in addition to any local connection they may have elsewhere, they will  have a local connection with the local authority that looked after them, and with an area where they have been placed in accommodation for at least two years, including a period of time before their 16th birthday.  In areas where there is a county council and district councils (often referred to as two-tier areas), care leavers will have a local connection with every local housing authority (district council) that falls within the area of the local authority (county) that cared for them.

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Obtaining Consent

A referral cannot be made without the service users consent. Those working with a service user they consider ought to be referred should ensure that the service user understands the purpose of the referral, and consents to information and contact details being passed on to the local housing authority so that they can be contacted about the referral. It is advisable to obtain the service users signature to confirm that they have consented to a referral being made. Consent should be well informed, taking into account circumstances where the service user would not benefit from a referral being made, for example, because the service user already has an open application for assistance from the local housing authority. Public authorities are advised to record on the service user’s records if a referral has been made, and if consent to a referral is refused.

Public authorities providing services to children within a family that is  threatened with homelessness or actually homeless, will usually need to obtain consent from a parent or adult carer before referring the family to a local housing authority. However, referrals without consent may be made in order to safeguard children or vulnerable adults, in accordance with local procedures.

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Process for referrals

Local housing authorities should work with public authorities in their area to design effective referral mechanisms which meet their local circumstances. Local housing authorities should place information on their websites explaining what their referral mechanisms are, and may also have online referral forms for referring public authorities to use. Local housing authorities should make referral mechanisms as simple as possible, based on the minimum information required by law for a public authority to make a legitimate referral; this is individuals names, contact details and agreed reason for referral.

However, a specified public authority may make a referral to a local housing authority in any manner they wish as long as they include the minimum information required by law. Where a local housing authority has not established referral mechanisms or not provided information about their mechanisms, or if the referral is coming from another part of the country, a simple form is available which can be used by public authorities to make a referral. The form can be found at:

Public bodies homelessness referral form


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Last Updated: 2 August 2019