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Homelessness legislation

The law on homelessness sets out what councils are legally required to do to help homeless people. In each nation of the UK, this is devolved to the governments. In the past, the laws were very similar but they are becoming increasingly different as each government brings in its own changes.

For example, Scottish councils now have to permanently house most people who go to them for help. In Wales councils have to try and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. We’re about to see a similar law in England. These changes have hugely improved the help that homeless people get. But we still think our governments can do more.

We talk to the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to suggest ways they could improve the laws on homelessness. We also talk to councils about how they deliver their legal duties.

What needs to change

In England we are working with councils to deliver new legal duties to prevent and tackle homelessness. Read more about legislation in England

In Scotland we are calling on the government to use its powers to prevent homelessness and reduce the length of time people have to stay in temporary accommodation. Read more about legislation in Scotland

In Wales we are calling on councils to make improvements to prevent people becoming homeless and give homeless people the help they really need. Read more about legislation in Wales

England

The law on homelessness in England is changing. This is the result of successful campaigning by Crisis and other homelessness organisations.

Historically, homeless people in England have only been able to get help if their local council thought they were a ‘priority’. This was mostly families with children. For years this has meant that many people without children have been turned away by councils. Some have had to sleep rough.

A new law has just been passed by parliament. The Homelessness Reduction Bill means that:

  • all homeless people will be able to get help from their council
  • councils must try to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place
  • families with children will still be housed by councils if that’s the best way to help them

We expect councils to start delivering their new legal duties in 2018.

We have been working closely with the government to develop this new law. We will carry on working with them as councils get ready for the changes. We will also work with councils across England to make sure they make the most of these new duties.

Read more about our No One Turned Away campaign to change the law in England

Scotland

In Scotland, there has been no distinction between ‘priority’ and ‘non-priority’ homeless people since 2012. This gives people in Scotland some of the strongest homelessness rights in the world. It means anyone who is homeless can go to their council for help and they should be provided with somewhere to stay temporarily. If they are homeless and it is not their fault (ie not as a result of anti-social behaviour or because they deliberately haven't paid their rent) then they are usually entitled to permanent accommodation.

In practice, people often have to stay in temporary accommodation for a long time while they wait for permanent accommodation. This accommodation is not always suitable to live in long term. It can have a negative impact on someone's wellbeing and make it difficult for them if they are trying to gain or keep employment.  

The Scottish government has encouraged councils to prevent homelessness using the ‘Housing Options’ approach. This helps people to keep their home or work out what housing options are available to them before they reach crisis point. Whilst this has helped reduce the number of people who need to apply to the council as officially homeless, in some parts of Scotland, people find it hard to get the help they need from their local council.

We think Scotland can learn lessons from the new laws in Wales and England to become more effective at preventing homelessness.

Wales

The Welsh government introduced a new law on homelessness in 2014. It requires councils to try and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. It also means more people get help. Before this law was introduced, councils only had to help homeless people they thought were a ‘priority’. This was mostly families with children.

We are already seeing early signs that the new law is working. Many families are being helped before they become homeless and in crisis. Fewer families are having to be housed in expensive emergency accommodation. We have also seen changes in Wales in the way homelessness services work. Some councils are doing much more to work with people to find the best solution to deal with their particular housing problem. However, there are growing concerns about rough sleeping levels in Wales.

But we want to see more councils working in this way. We have a new policy team in Wales that will be working with the government and with councils across Wales. We want to make sure councils are doing their best to prevent people becoming homeless and that homeless people are getting the help they really need.

Read Reasonable Steps by Shelter (PDF) 

See also: our work around enforcement measures taken against people sleeping rough.