Help to prevent you becoming homeless
If you are eligible for help and in danger of losing your home in the next 56 days, the council must help you to try and keep your current home or to take steps to stop you from becoming homeless. This is known as the duty to help to prevent homelessness, or “the prevention duty”.
The prevention duty is owed to all eligible applicants regardless of priority need, intentionality or local connection.
Who can get help to prevent them becoming homeless?
You don’t have to be sleeping on the street to get help from the council. Your local council must also help you if:
The council should consider you to be threatened with homelessness if you are likely to become homeless within 56 days. This may apply for example if you are a tenant who has received a valid notice from your landlord that he or she wishes to evict you.
You do NOT have to be in priority need to receive help under the prevention duty and help should be provided regardless of the reasons why you became at risk of homelessness.
How do I get help from the council to prevent me from becoming homeless?
If you are likely to lose your home in the next 56 days you should contact your local council and ask for help. You should ask to make a homelessness application.
The council should take an application from you, carry out an assessment of your housing needs and, if you are eligible, offer you some help to try and stop you from becoming homeless.
The council should tell you in writing whether or not they are going to provide you with help. The letter must either be sent to you or left at council offices for you to collect. If the council decides not to give you any help the letter must explain the reasons why. You may be able to ask the council to review its’ decision. If you want to do this 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 can the council give?
Once the council has decided that you are eligible and threatened with homelessness, it should take reasonable steps to help you:
- keep your current home;
- delay a move out of your current home until any new home is ready; or
- find somewhere else to live so that you do not become homeless.
This does NOT mean that the council has to provide you with a new home, only that it must help you by taking reasonable steps to stop you from becoming homeless.
The council can give the help itself or it can arrange for someone else to help you, such as a specialist housing or debt adviser.
What are ‘reasonable steps’?
When deciding what are ‘reasonable steps’, the council should look at the circumstances and particular needs of your household. The council should talk to you about what steps would be appropriate in your case and agree the steps to be taken with you.
Examples of the reasonable steps a council could take are:
- offering to provide a mediation service between you and any members of your family or neighbours to try and help sort out any difficulties so that you can stay in your home;
- offering to speak with your landlord to try and allow you to stay in your home or agree some more time so that you can find other accommodation;
- helping you to negotiate with your mortgage lender or to apply for help so that you can continue to meet your mortgage payments (for example, through a Mortgage Rescue Scheme or Support for Mortgage Interest payments);
- providing you with a grant or a loan to pay off arrears so that you can stay in your home;
- providing you with a grant or a loan to pay a tenancy deposit or rent in advance on a new home;
- providing you with, or referring you for, specialist advice about your money and benefits;
- helping you set a realistic budget so that you can afford to stay in your home or pay for somewhere new;
- providing you with, or referring you for, specialist independent housing advice;
- helping you fill out application forms for housing (for example with a Housing Association or for supported housing);
- providing you with advice and support about personal safety if you are at risk of abuse, helping you find a safe home or refuge, referring you for legal advice if needed;
- helping you with an application for a Discretionary Housing Payment or to the Discretionary Assistance Fund;
- providing you with a furniture pack for a new home;
- referring you to an anti-social behaviour prevention service;
- supporting you with applications for Disabled Facilities Grants to help adapt your home.
These are just examples of what steps the council might offer to take for you. They may offer other help which is not on the list. If there is some help that you think the council can provide which would stop you becoming homeless then talk about that help with them.
The council should agree with you the steps that are going to be taken. Some councils may agree a Personal Housing Plan with you. Ask for a copy of this so that you can see what has been agreed. If you do not have a Personal Housing Plan ask the council to write down the steps that have been agreed and give you a copy.
You should make sure you do everything that is agreed on the plan and attend any appointments that are arranged for you.
How long does the council have to give me help to prevent my homelessness?
Once the council has accepted it has to help you prevent your homelessness it must provide you with help until one of the following things happens:
- You become homeless
If you become homeless the council must review your case and decide whether it must give you any other help. It is likely that the council will have a duty to help secure you accommodation and, if you meet certain criteria, it may have to give you emergency housing.
- You find suitable accommodation which is likely to be available to you for the next 6 months
If you have found suitable accommodation which you can stay in for at least the next 6 months, the council does not have to give you any further help to prevent your homelessness. It does not matter how you found the accommodation – it may have come about as result of the help the council has given you or not. The council must be satisfied that the accommodation is suitable for your needs before it decides that it no longer has to help you. The accommodation must be available for you to actually move in to, not just a promise from a landlord that you will have accommodation at some date in the future. If you have moved back home, for example because the council has helped you sort things out with your family, then the council must be satisfied that it is not just a temporary arrangement and that you will be able to stay back at home for at least the next 6 months.
- You refuse an offer of suitable accommodation
If the council offer you suitable accommodation but you refuse the offer, then the council can decide that it does not have to help you any further under the prevention duty. The council must be satisfied that the accommodation they offer you would have been available for at least the next 6 months.
The offer of accommodation can be from any person and can include an offer from friends and family, private accommodation, supported and/or hostel accommodation, and council or housing association housing.
If the offer is for hostel or some other temporary accommodation, the council must be satisfied that it is likely that you can stay there for the next 6 months, and that you will be able to keep to any of the rules set by the landlord. If the council think that you will only be able to keep to the rules with some help or support then it should make arrangements for this support or help to be given to you before it offers you the accommodation.
If you are offered accommodation that you do not think is suitable, it might be best to accept the offer and ask for a review of it’s suitability rather than refusing the offer and risking not having any further help.
- You are no longer eligible
The council will not have to help to prevent your homelessness if it establishes that you are no longer eligible for help.
- There has been a mistake of fact
If the council find out that mistaken facts led to them deciding that they had to help you, then they can withdraw that help immediately.
A mistake of fact might happen if you knowingly don’t tell the council something when you apply for help or you give false information, for example, telling the council that children live with you when in fact they live somewhere else.
You may be committing an offence if you make a false statement or intentionally withhold information from the council.
- You withdraw your application
If you withdraw your application then the council no longer has to help you.
The council may decide that your application has been withdrawn if it does not hear from you in more than 3 months. It is therefore a good idea to stay in contact with the council.
- You unreasonably fail to co-operate with the council
The council can refuse to give you any more help if they think that you are not co-operating with them. This could be because:
– you have not turned up at sessions that have been arranged by the council to help you, for example benefit appointments or mediation sessions
– you have not given the council the information they have asked for
– you will not agree to steps that the council suggest could help you.
Before the council can decide that they are not helping you they should look at all of your circumstances and try to find out why you are not co-operating. If you need some help or support to do the things the council are asking of you then they should try and provide this. For example, you may need a support worker to explain things to you or to help you get to appointments etc.
If the council are thinking about ending their duty to help you they should tell you in advance so that you have the chance to start co-operating. The council may send you a letter warning you that they are thinking of ending their duty to help you and give you the opportunity to put things right. If the council say they are no longer going to help you because you are not co-operating with them then get advice. At the very least the council should still give you some basic advice about housing options.
What if I don’t agree with the council’s decision not to help me any further?
If the council decides that it no longer has to help you to prevent your homelessness then it must inform you in writing. The letter must tell you the reasons why the council have made this decision and that you have a right to request a review of the decision within 21 days.
For further advice about challenging the council’s decision click here.