New homelessness legislation

As new Welsh homelessness legislation kicks in, housing charity Shelter Cymru urges the public to make use of new services. From today new legislation will mean people facing homelessness in Wales will be helped in significantly different ways than before.

Shelter Cymru is urging the public to seek help from services at an early stage, not just when crisis is imminent. People can approach local authorities or seek help from independent advice providers such as Shelter Cymru.

With the introduction of Part 2 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, homelessness prevention services will be available to all households who are in danger of losing their home within 56 days – even those with no local connection and who don’t fit any of the ‘priority need’ categories.

This means that more people have a right to assistance than ever before.

At the same time, the types of help offered by local authorities are changing. Social housing will no longer be the main way of assisting people out of crisis.

Instead, local authority Housing Options teams will have the power to discharge their homelessness duties with an offer of privately rented accommodation.

Authorities have a duty to take ‘all reasonable steps’ with the aim of preventing homelessness for at least six months. This means that as well as helping to find accommodation, they may also assist with bonds and rent in advance, refer people to support services, refer to mediation to keep families together, as well as a range of other interventions depending on what people need.

If this activity doesn’t resolve the problem, the local authority will then look at whether households qualify as priority need, unintentionally homeless, and whether they have a local connection.

Although this still won’t guarantee an offer of social housing, the authority will be required to ensure that a household is in suitable accommodation – provided they pass the tests.

There has been very little awareness-raising among the public of the new homelessness duties, and the vast majority of people currently in housing crisis will be unaware of the changes.

‘Homelessness prevention services are for everyone who is at risk of losing their home. You don’t need to be on benefits and you don’t need to fit into a ‘priority need’ group anymore,’ said John Puzey, Director.

‘The fact is that homelessness can happen to anyone no matter what their background may be – a fact recognised by the Welsh Government who is opening up services wider than ever before. People need to be aware that this source of help is available to them.

‘It’s also important that private landlords let local authorities know when they have tenants who may be at risk of homelessness through eviction. The authority may be able to intervene and prevent problems getting out of hand.’

Shelter Cymru is supportive of the Welsh Government’s approach but has opposed certain elements of the new scheme, particularly the removal of priority need status for prison leavers. We have called for the Welsh Government to gradually phase out the priority need test altogether, as has happened in Scotland.

We have also raised concerns about the discharge of homelessness duties into the private rented sector against households’ consent. We are particularly concerned about the low level of security of tenure offered by the private rented sector, since most households will only have a six-month tenancy.

Shelter Cymru is Wales’s People and Homes charity. We have offices all over Wales and prevent people from losing their homes by offering free, confidential and independent advice.

Last year we helped nearly 15,000 people, preventing homelessness in 89 per cent of the cases where it was faced, while more than 140,000 people visited our website looking for help.