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Know your rights about homelessness

The Homelessness Reduction Act and your homeless application 

The rights of homeless people or those threatened with homelessness 

Key Advice 

• If you are threatened with homelessness or homeless do not delay in exploring what options may be available to prevent or relieve your homelessness. Use our Housing Options Finder tool to see what  options may be available to you - the sooner you know about your options, the sooner you can take the right action for you. 

• If you are facing homelessness and make an application  to the Council, the Council  will have a duty to work with you to take reasonable steps to prevent your homelessness or help secure accommodation for you regardless of priority need, intentionality or local connection. 

• You will be required to provide important papers to the Council to help with the assessment such as birth certificate, passport, proof of  income and expenditure, utility bill, eviction notice and tenancy agreement. 

• Applying as homeless to the Council is not the same as applying to join the housing register. 

•  It is not the Council’s sole duty to offer you a home. You will need to work with us following steps set out in a personalised housing plan. 

The Council are required to respond to a crisis situation.  Homelessness is not a fast track to a council tenancy - any time previously spent on the waiting list will be ignored and you will be given a new registration date. If you are accepted for the ‘main duty’ any offer made under the main housing duty may be in the private rented sector, outside of Tower Hamlets, and possibly  outside of London.  

Information on your rights is also available on Shelter's website

1. What are my rights if I am threatened with homelessness? 

If you are eligible and in danger of losing your home the Council must try and help you to keep your current home and take reasonable steps to stop you from becoming homeless. This is known as the ‘prevention duty’. 

The prevention duty is owed to all eligible applicants who are threatened with homelessness regardless of priority need, intentionality or local connection. 

You will be deemed to be threatened with homelessness if you are likely to become homeless within 56 days. An example of this would be if you are a tenant who has received a valid notice from your landlord. 

2. What can I expect to happen during the Prevention Duty? 

  • The Council will determine if you are threatened with homelessness
  • If you are threatened with homelessness the Council will accept a homeless application from you
  • You will have a housing needs assessment which will include the needs of all the members of your household
  • You will agree a plan, known as a personalised housing plan with your case officer where reasonable steps will be agreed for both parties to take to try and prevent your homelessness. These reasonable steps should try and keep you in your current home, delay a move from your current home until any new home is ready or find somewhere else for you to live so you do not become homeless. Find out more more on ways to prevent homelessness.
  • The Council will confirm in writing, that you are eligible and threatened with homelessness, that the prevention duty is owed and you have been given a copy of your personalised housing plan.
  • This does not mean that the Council has to provide you with a new home, but that it must help you by taking reasonable steps to prevent you from becoming homeless. The Council can provide help themselves or it can arrange for someone else to help you, such as a specialist debt adviser.  

3. How long can the prevention duty last? 

Once the Council has accepted they owe you the prevention duty it must help you for at least 56 days unless the following happens within the 56 days; 

• You become homeless 

• You find suitable accommodation which is likely to be available for you for the next 6 months 

• You refuse an offer of suitable accommodation  

• You are no longer eligible 

• There has been a mistake of fact 

• You withdraw your application 

• You unreasonably fail to co-operate with the council 

The prevention duty can be extended if you agree and the Council is working with you to find accommodation that has the reasonable prospect of being available for the next six months. 

4. What is your role during the prevention duty? 

• To notify the Council as soon as you are threatened with homelessness 

• Provide all the documents requested in a timely manner 

• To work with the Council by following and completing all the steps set out in your personalised housing plan that will enable you to remain in your current home or secure alternative accommodation 

• You are expected to contact your case worker and provide updates on the actions taken with reference to your reasonable steps. You have to co-operate at all times. 

• You need to continue to seek your own accommodation 

5. What are my rights as a homeless person? 

If you are not already homeless it is really important; 

  • To check whether you have the right to remain in your own home
  • If you have already left, check to see if you can return
  • Not to leave your accommodation when you don’t have to before getting housing advice as it could affect any future help that is available to you from the Council 

Local authorities have very clear and specific duties towards those that are homeless. 

If the Council has reason to believe you are eligible for help, homeless and in priority need then it has a duty to provide you and your household with emergency interim accommodation whilst it tries to relieve your long term homelessness.  

Please note if you lose your interim accommodation through your own fault the Council will have no further duty to secure you emergency accommodation but you will still have the relief duty owed. 

6. Can I get help under the relief duty if I am homeless? 

If you are homeless the Council must help to secure suitable accommodation for you and your household. This is known as the relief duty. 

You do not have to be in priority need to receive the relief duty 

If the Council decides that you are entitled to this help (the relief duty) but you do not have a local connection with the area, the Council may decide to refer you to another council to receive this help. The  Council are required to  conduct the housing needs assessment and send that to the other council with the referral. As the applicant you will be notified in writing of this.  

The Council will write to you if you are owed the relief duty 

7. How do I get help under the relief duty? 

Tower Hamlets Council will take a homeless application from you if you meet the relief criteria outlined above. Your case officer will carry out a full housing needs assessment for you and your household.  

The Council can help you to secure suitable accommodation  

You and the Council will work together to take reasonable steps to help you secure suitable accommodation. This does not mean the council has to house you. Only that it must take reasonable steps to help you find somewhere suitable to live. 

8. How long does the council have to help me under the relief duty? 

This help is time limited; the Council has 56 days from the date they owe you the relief duty to help secure accommodation. 

The relief duty can only be ended; 

• If you are non-priority. This decision can be made before the 56 days has ended. Through out the 56 days, the Council has a duty to work with you to take reasonable steps to secure accommodation. After the 56 days the Council may be satisfied that they have done everything it can to help you find accommodation. 

• You find suitable accommodation which is likely to be available for six months 

• You refuse an offer of suitable accommodation 

• You are no longer eligible 

9. What are my rights at the end of the 56 days if none of the  reasons above apply to me?  

You will be either owed the main  housing duty or be found intentionally homeless. 

The Main Housing Duty  

Once the relief duty comes to an end, if you have not been able to secure accommodation, we will assess whether you are owed the main housing duty. You are owed the main housing duty if you remain homeless after the relief duty comes to an end, are in priority need, and have not made yourself intentionally homeless. If you are owed the main housing duty, we will have a duty to source suitable alternative accommodation for you.  

Please remember that we are responding to a crisis situation. This usually means that you may be spending many years in temporary accommodation while bidding for a permanent home. Any offer made under the main housing duty is likely to be in the private rented sector, outside of Tower Hamlets, and possibly be outside of London. The wait for a two-bedroom property is around five to seven years and a three-bedroom property means waiting for around nine years. More information can be found on the Apply for social housing webpage.  

Remember that homelessness is not a fast track to a council tenancy. Any time previously spent on the waiting list will be ignored and you will be given a new registration date. In addition to this, you will be limited to one offer of suitable accommodation which may be in the private rented sector and may be outside of Tower Hamlets.

Intentionally homeless

If you have deliberately caused your homelessness and the accommodation would have otherwise been available for you to occupy then you could be found intentionally homeless. The duty would be to provide accommodation for a period of no more than 28 days from the end of the 56 days. After that date you would be responsible for securing your own accommodation. The Rent Deposit scheme may still be available to you if you have a local connection to Tower Hamlets Council. 

10. What is my role during the relief duty? 

• To notify us a soon as possible when you are going to be homeless 

• Provide all documents requested in a timely manner 

• To work together with us to complete the reasonable steps set out in your personalised housing plan 

• To keep in contact with your case worker, attend all appointments and keep us informed of all steps taken 

• You need to continue to seek your own accommodation-it is not the Council’s sole duty to offer you a home. 

11. Right to help from Social Services 

Social Services sometimes have duties to help certain groups of people who become homeless. These groups include; 

• Some people aged under 18 

• People who have been in care ( up to the age 21, or up to your 24th birthday if you are still in full time education) 

• People with disabilities 

• People with mental health problems  

• Older people 

Social services may also be able to help you if you have dependant children and the housing options team have decided that you are not eligible for assistance or intentionally homeless. 

12. Rights to claim benefits if I am homeless 

If you are homeless you are still entitled to claim benefits. 

Contact the DWP if you require further information 

13. Rights to register with a GP if I am homeless 

You are entitled to register with a doctor when you are homeless. 

When you approach a GP, they will give you a form to complete in order to register at the surgery. Your records will then be transferred from your previous GP. If the GP you approach refuses to register you, they must tell you why. They can refuse you because you live too far from the surgery or because their list is closed. They are not allowed to discriminate against you on the grounds of race, gender, social class, age, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, disability or a medical condition.age. You should not be refused registration or appointments because you do not have a proof of address or personal identification at hand. It's not considered a reasonable ground to refuse registration. This also applies if you're a homeless patient. For more information  visit the NHS webpages on how to register with a GP practice

You can find a doctor in Tower Hamlets through NHS Direct England. If you are street homeless, sofa surfing or in hostel accommodation in the borough of Tower Hamlets you can register at Health E1 Medical Centre.

14. Do I still have the right to vote? 

To vote in a general election, you have to; 

• Be 18 or over 

• Be a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic or Ireland 

• Not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote 

If you are homeless you can still vote. You will need to make a declaration giving an address where you spend a substantial part of your time or have some connection. This could be a previous address, shelter, friends or anywhere you spend most of the day or night. 

Find out more about registering to vote without an address.