England & Wales Housing and planning, Welfare and equalities

Viewpoint: A single duty


Photo Credit: Joe Gratz via Compfight cc

Crisis have long campaigned to ensure that single people are provided with proper assistance to end their homelessness and a recent supreme court judgment will significantly change how councils will have to assess the needs of the single homeless person writes Senior Policy Officer, Hannah Gousy.

As it currently stands the homelessness legislation creates a two-tier system in terms of the support local authorities are required to provide to households with dependent children and single homeless people.

Most single homeless people are not considered to be a ‘priority’ meaning that their council has no legal duty to find them housing. The consequence of councils not intervening early can be devastating and trap people in homelessness for a far longer time. This often results in a much larger expense for local authorities further done the line, when someone’s needs have become much more complex and entrenched.

We recently carried out a mystery shopping exercise in which 8 formerly homeless people visited 16 local authorities to examine the quality of advice and assistance they provide to single homeless people.

  • In 37 of the 87 visits, local authorities made arrangements to accommodate mystery shoppers that evening, either through the provision of emergency accommodation or because they had negotiated for them to return to their previous address.
  • In well over half (50) of the 87 visits however, the help offered was inadequate.
  • In 29 cases, they were simply turned away without any help or the opportunity to speak to a housing advisor.

In the last couple of weeks the Supreme Court handed down a landmark judgment with regards to the eligibility of single homeless people for local authority assistance.

For single homeless people to qualify as priority need for housing they have to demonstrate that they are vulnerable as a result of: a mental or physical health problem; learning difficulties; time spent in care, the army or prison; or because they are fleeing violence. And importantly, up until now this had to make them more vulnerable than the average homeless person. Only then would they be able to access housing.

If you’re homeless you are by definition vulnerable. This has created an extremely high threshold for people to overcome in order to access housing. As a result, the proportion of single homeless people accepted as homeless because they are vulnerable has dropped from 38% in 2004 to 27% in 2014.

This new ruling however means that:

  • Councils must now consider how vulnerable someone is compared to the ordinary person facing homelessness, not the ordinary person who is actually already homeless. This is an important distinction that will help ensure more single homeless people are considered a priority for housing.
  • The Supreme Court is clear that while councils are often under huge financial strain, a lack of resources should not in any way affect their decision about whether or not someone is considered a priority for housing.
  • Local authorities will no longer be able to rely on statistics relating to the overall homeless population to help them to assess whether someone is more vulnerable than the ordinary person facing homeless.

 This judgment is a huge step forward in ensuring that single homeless people get the help and support they need to get back on their feet. But we know that there is so much more to do. In addition to a full review of the legislation, there is vital need for local authorities to be better resourced in order to help those people qualifying as priority need and to provide a strong and robust housing options offer for those who do not.

On 8th June, Crisis will be running a free briefing session for local authorities on the recent Supreme Court ruling on priority need. We are aware that this ruling significantly changes the assessment local authorities will be required to undertake when considering the homeless applications of single people and therefore are looking to provide support to understand the detail of the ruling and what it will and won’t mean for councils. The event will be held at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London. If you are interested in attending email [email protected]