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Homelessness duties

Number of households London boroughs owe homelessness duties to by type of duty (2002/03 - 2022/23)

The nature and scope of duties owed by local authorities to homeless households changed considerably with the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017) (HRA), which came into force in 2018. Whereas previously local authorities only had statutory duties towards households that were classed as being in “priority need” because, for example, they contained children or a pregnant woman, the HRA puts the following duties on local authorities:

  1. Prevention duty: Local authorities owe prevention duties to help stop households at risk of homelessness losing their accommodation.
  2. Relief duty: If a household is homeless, the local authority owes them a relief duty to provide some sort of accommodation.
  3. Main duty: The main homelessness duty to provide accommodation (which until 2018 was the only statutory duty owed to homeless households) comes into effect when the relief duty has failed and accommodation has not been secured.

Before the passing of the HRA, the scale of homelessness duties owed by local authorities in London had fallen from the start of the century until 2009/10 and then risen from that point until 2016/17. The significant increase in duties owed by local authorities in 2018/19 onwards reflects the increased statutory responsibilities placed on local authorities by the HRA. In 2022/23 the duties owed have increased slightly in comparison to the year before.

While this represents a significant increase in formal duties owed, prior to the HRA, many local authorities were already engaged in supporting those at risk of homelessness but not owed a statutory duty. As such, it is difficult to assess the overall increase in the activity local authorities are engaged in to tackle homelessness. Note also that these figures relate to duties owed rather than individuals, as the same person can be recorded as being owed a prevention or relief duty, and then a main duty following that.

Despite the various impacts that Covid has had on the housing system (including the economic shock to household incomes, state support and initiatives to safely house homeless families and people sleeping rough) the level of statutory homelessness did not change significantly between 2019/20 and 2020/21. The latest data for 2022/23 shows increases in each category on the previous year.