Making a homeless application
By Geoff Davies, Specialist Housing Advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent
This is a briefing note for support workers who are assisting customers to make a homelessness application to the Local Authority.
It explains what the customer should take with them and what questions the local authority might ask the customer. It also outlines the law in this area and what legal duties, if any, the local authority might have towards the customer. It also explains what to do if the Council refuses to help the customer.
The guide also provides a standard letter for making a homelessness application in writing.
Preparing for the interview
The customer will need to explain to the local authority why they are homeless or why they are about to become homeless. The customer should also inform the Council if they have nowhere to stay that night.
It may be worth making some notes of what the customer wants to say before the interview so that nothing is forgotten.
It might be useful to take the following information;
- Proof of identity (birth certificate or passport if possible).
- Tenancy agreement, if the customer has one
- Evidence of why the customer has to leave the home, such as an eviction notice, court paperwork, section 21 notice.
- Medical information, if the customer has health problems.
- Proof of income (including benefits).
The homelessness Interview
The homelessness officer should explain the application process including how the council will decide if they can help the applicant and what help they can give.
The homelessness officer will ask the applicant a number of questions about their circumstances in order to determine what duties, if any, that they may owe to the applicant.
In particular, the homelessness officer will want to know;
- If the applicant lives permanently in the UK
- Who lives with the applicant, including any children.
- If the customer, or anyone else who lives with them, has any support needs, for example a disability or long-term illness.
- Why they became homeless or are threatened with homelessness.
The Legal Stuff
Most of the law that the local authority has to follow is contained in Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. This has now been substantially amended by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The Council should also follow the Homelessness Code of Guidance 2018 or give good reasons why they have departed from this.
The duty to make enquiries
Section 184(1) of the Housing Act 1988 provides that when a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness it must make inquiries as to:
- whether s/he is eligible for assistance and, if so
- What duty, if any, is owed to the applicant by the authority
The duty to provide interim accommodation
A local authority must provide interim accommodation while it makes inquiries if it has reason to believe that the applicant may be:
- eligible for assistance, and
- in priority need.
s.188(1) Housing Act 1996;
The LA should provide the accommodation when it is needed and then make further enquiries.
R (M) v Hammersmith & Fulham LBC 
The Homelessness Code of Guidance at paragraph 15.5 stresses that the threshold for providing interim accommodation is low.
Having a ‘reason to believe’ (rather than being satisfied) means nothing more than that the applicant presents with circumstances that indicate s/he may be homeless, eligible and in priority need.
R (Kelly and Mehari) v Birmingham CC  EWHC 3240 (Admin).
The Local Government & Social Ombudsman criticised one council for demanding ‘verifiable proof’ that the applicant was homeless before offering interim accommodation.
LGSCO Complaint no. 16014568:10 October 2017.
While the starting point should be what is said by the applicant, it was held in Edwards v Birmingham City Council  EWHC 173 (Admin),  HLR 11. that a council is entitled to question an applicant who claims to be homeless at home to clarify whether in fact there was reason to believe that it was not reasonable for him to continue to occupy that accommodation.
Any interim accommodation must be suitable, taking into account the needs of the applicant, although the courts have held that accommodation only intended to be temporary may be considered to be suitable where it would not be suitable as permanent accommodation. This also relates in some circumstances to applicants living in unsuitable accommodation at the time of making the homeless application. An applicant may be advised to remain in their current home whilst alternative accommodation is sought.
On some occasions it may be reasonable to offer accommodation outside of the Local Authority area providing it is reasonable to do so.
Only one suitable offer of interim accommodation has to be made and if refused the Local Authority can bring to an end their duty to provide interim accommodation under s188.
The duty to provide interim accommodation isn’t an absolute duty and can be lost by the applicant through refusal, behaviour or non-occupancy.
New duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 means that local authorities now have to help people to stay in their current accommodation or find alternative accommodation at an earlier stage in the process. It is important to note that a customer does not have to be in priority need in order for the council to owe the prevention or relief duties.
The Prevention duty requires a local authority to take reasonable steps to prevent an applicant becoming homeless, or where that is not possible, work with the applicant to find suitable alternative accommodation that has a reasonable prospect of lasting for 6 months.
It is important to stress to the customer that this accommodation may not be a council property and may be in the private sector or a supported housing scheme or even hostel.
As part of the prevention duty, the Council will need to complete an assessment and a personalised housing plan (PHP) with the applicant. The assessment will look at why the applicant became homeless, what their housing needs are and whether they have any support needs.
The PHP will be an action plan and will set out the reasonable steps that the applicant and the Council need to take to find them accommodation.
The applicant will be expected to cooperate with the council and the Prevention duty can be ended if the council consider that an applicant has deliberately and unreasonably refused to cooperate.
The Relief Duty may be owed by the local authority if the client is homelessness or homelessness is imminent or if 56 days under the Prevention Duty has passed.
This is a duty to try and relieve homelessness by taking reasonable steps to find the applicant suitable accommodation that has a reasonable prospect of lasting for six months. This may be accommodation in the private sector and will not necessarily be council accommodation. It could also be accommodation within a supported housing scheme or hostel.
The Council will need to complete a housing assessment and a personalised housing plan if these have not already been completed at the prevention stage.
If the Council do not believe that the applicant has a local connection then they can make a referral to another local authority where the applicant does have a local connection.
During the Relief Stage, the local authority may make a decision on whether they owe the application the ‘main housing’ duty to provide suitable, permanent accommodation. They will look at whether the applicant is in priority need, intentionally homeless or not and whether they have a local connection.
What if the council refuse to help?
The Council should write to the applicant at each stage of the process to let them know what decision they have reached. If the applicant disagrees with the decision then they can usually ask for a review but they must do so within 21 days of date of the decision. The review will then be considered by a senior officer at the local authority who was not involved with the original decision.
Homelessness Application – Standard letter
There may be situations where an applicant cannot make an application in person, for instance they may be in hospital or prison, and so a standard letter can be used to make a homelessness application which you can download here