Overview of a council’s duties
Important: The law about what help local councils should give you if you are homeless or about to become homeless changed in Wales on the 27th April 2015. A summary of these changes can be found here.
If you contact the council after that date and you are homeless or in danger of losing your home in the next 56 days the council might have to help you. What help you are entitled to depends on your circumstances. In most cases the council will have to provide you with advice and help at an early stage. They may have to help you find a home, or in some situations, keep your current home. In other cases, the council may have a duty to make sure you are provided with a home.
If you need more information, call Shelter Cymru’s expert housing advice helpline on 0345 075 5005 or visit advice near you to find an advice surgery near you where you can talk to someone in person.
Under new homelessness laws, if you are homeless or in danger of losing your home in the next 56 days the council housing department might have to help you. What help you are entitled to depends on your circumstances. In most cases the council will have to provide you with advice and help at an early stage. They may have to help you find a home, or in some situations, help you keep your current home. In other cases, the council may have a duty to make sure you are provided with a home. The help you can get is described in more detail below.
If you are not sure of your rights, an adviser can look into your situation and may be able to put arguments to the council on your behalf.
Aommodation for you until you are told that the referral has been accepted.
Who can get help?
You don’t have to be sleeping on the street to get help from the council. Your local council may also have to help you if:
- You are likely to be homeless within the next 56 days (this has been extended from 28 days).
- You can only stay where you are temporarily (for example, if you are staying with friends or family in an emergency).
- You have to move because of violence or threats.
- You are living in very overcrowded conditions.
- You have been locked out of your home.
- You live in a caravan or houseboat but have nowhere to put it.
- Your home is in such a bad state of repair that it is damaging your health.
- You are squatting or don’t have permission to stay where you are.
- Your household is forced to live apart because your accommodation isn’t suitable for you all to live together.
What’s involved in making an application?
If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness within the next 56 days and ask the council for help, it has to follow special procedures. Each of the steps is described in more detail below. This is what should happen:
- You make an homelessness application to the council.
- The council interviews you and carries out an assessment of your circumstances and your needs.
- If you meet certain criteria, you may be offered interim accommodation while the council makes its enquiries and decides what help, if any, to give you.
- The council completes its enquiries and tells you in writing its decision about whether you are entitled to help:
- If you meet certain criteria and the council decide you are at risk of homelessness in the next 56 days, the council must provide you with help and advice to try and stop you from becoming homeless (“the duty to prevent homelessness”)
- If you meet certain criteria and the council decide you are actually homeless, the council must help you to find a home (“the duty to help secure accommodation”).
- After 56 days, if you are still homeless the council reviews your case and, if you meet certain criteria, the council must ensure you are provided with a home (“the duty to secure accommodation”).
- The council may need to take reasonable steps to protect your belongings (“the duty to protect belongings”).
- In some circumstances, you may be sent to another council’s area.
What happens when I go to the council?
When you go to the council and tell them you are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, you should be interviewed by a council officer, who will carry out an assessment. The officer should ask you about your circumstances, your housing needs and any housing support you may need. The officer should allow you to explain how you have become homeless.
The kind of help that the council has to give you depends on your individual situation. If you are homeless or likely to become homeless within the next 56 days, in most situations the very least the council has to do is:
- Accept a homelessness application from you.
- Carry out an assessment of your housing and support needs.
- Give you advice and help to avoid losing your home (this may include helping you to negotiate with your landlord or mortgage lender) (“the duty to prevent homelessness”).
- Give you advice and help to find somewhere else to live (this may include providing you with advice on your benefits, referring you to other agencies, or more direct support such as providing you with a bond guarantee) (“the duty to help secure accommodation”).
You do NOT have to be in priority need to receive this advice and help and it should be provided regardless of the reasons why you became homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The level of advice and help provided can vary depending on your circumstances. If the council only gives you a list of bed and breakfast hotels, hostels and private landlords, get advice from Shelter Cymru.
If you are likely to become homeless but not within the next 56 days, the council are unlikely to accept a homelessness application.
Will I get emergency accommodation straight away?
The council has to provide you with interim accommodation while it looks into your situation only if it has reason to believe you may be:
- eligible for help, and
- have a priority need.
While you are in interim accommodation, the council will continue to look into your circumstances and decide if you are entitled to any further help. If the council decides that it must help you find somewhere else to live then this interim accommodation can continue whilst that help is given to you.
The type of interim accommodation provided varies from council to council and might be a hostel or bed & breakfast. The interim accommodation must be suitable for you and your family, having regard to the likely length of time that you are going to be there.
The council can make a reasonable charge for this accommodation, however they should consider whether it is affordable for you.. You may be able to get Housing Benefit to help pay the rent if you are on a low income.
What happens to my belongings?
If the council gives you interim accommodation or accepts a duty to secure accommodation for you, it also has to take reasonable steps to protect your belongings (“the duty to protect belongings”). This only applies if your property is at risk and you cannot make arrangements to protect it yourself. This could be because:
You can’t afford to arrange removals or storage You are too ill to arrange anything.
Most councils will put your household goods (such as furniture) into storage. They must make sure they are safe until you are able to protect them yourself or the council no longer has a responsibility to provide accommodation for you. The council will probably charge you for looking after your belongings.
What happens when the council makes a decision?
The council must inform you in writing of its decision about whether you are entitled to help or not. The letter must either be sent to you or left at council offices for you to collect.
If the council has decided that it can’t help, the letter must explain the reasons why. It must inform you that you can ask for a review of the decision. If you want to request a review, get advice immediately. The procedure can be complex and you have to ask for a review within 21 days of receiving the decision letter.
What help must the council provide once it has made its’ decision?
- If you meet certain criteria and the council decide you are at risk of homelessness in the next 56 days, the council must provide you with help and advice to try and stop you from becoming homeless (“the duty to prevent homelessness”). They should help you keep your home, or, if that is not possible, help you to find somewhere else to live so that you do not become homeless.
- If you meet certain criteria and the council decide you are actually homeless, the council must help you to find a home (“the duty to help secure accommodation”). This does not mean that the council has to provide you with a home, or that you will be offered permanent social housing, only that they have to HELP you find a suitable place to live. The council should provide you with advice and help with applications for housing, benefits, furniture packs etc, or perhaps consider you for a bond guarantee or family mediation or support. They may write a Personal Housing Plan for you. There are many different ways that the council can give you help and if you are not happy with what the council are doing to help then seek advice from Shelter Cymru.
- After 56 days has passed, the council must review your case and, if it is satisfied that you:
- Still do not have suitable accommodation, or have suitable accommodation but it is not likely to be available for at least 6 months,, and Are eligible for assistance, and Are in priority need, and Did not make yourself homeless intentionally (not all councils will take this into consideration),
- The council must ensure you are provided with a home (“the duty to secure accommodation”). This could mean that the council provide you with its own accommodation, or offer you something from another landlord, such as a housing association or even a private landlord. The accommodation must be suitable for you and your household’s needs.
Will the accommodation be suitable for me?
The accommodation the council offers you has to be suitable for you and your household. The council has to look at specific factors in deciding if the accommodation is suitable for you. These include:
- How much you can afford to pay for the accommodation.
- The location and size of the accommodation.
- Any effect it may have on your health.
If you think the accommodation the council has provided is unsuitable, get advice before you turn it down. You may be able to challenge the council but you should find out first if you have a strong case before deciding what action to take. If you refuse accommodation that the council considers suitable, they might not have to give you any further help.
Can I be sent to another council area?
If the council decides that you are owed the duty to help secure accommodation, but that you do not have a local connection with the area, it may decide to refer you to another area. This can only happen in certain circumstances, which are explained in more detail in the section on local connection. The council is not allowed to send you to an area where any member of your household is at risk of domestic abuse.
If the council does decide to refer you to a different area, it has to provide emergency accommodation for you until you are told that the referral has been accepted.
We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 0345 075 5005.