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The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 was brought into effect 5 years ago in April 2018. It was one of the biggest changes to the rights of homeless people in England for 15 years.

It added two new duties onto the original statutory rehousing duty: 

  • Duty to prevent homelessness 

  • Duty to relieve homelessness 

There was hope in the sector that it would  

  • extend entitlements to help 

  • place a renewed focus on the prevention of homelessness and local joint working 

  • provide more client-focussed, personalised statutory homelessness services 


Neil, Co-Head of Casework, has been working at Glass Door for 16 years and has seen various changes in the homelessness sector during that time. Here, he talks to us about what has and hasn’t changed in the 5 years since the Homelessness Reduction Act was enacted.  


Do you think this piece of legislation has been effective?

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) has undoubtedly been game-changing in terms of the number of our guests who are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, who Local Authorities (LAs) now in theory have a duty to engage with. Previously, very few of our guests would meet the Priority Need threshold which triggered the LAs’ duty to provide them with a service if they made an application as homeless: now LAs have to provide a service to a far wider range of our guests who may be homeless, and in particular those who are threatened with homelessness.  

This means that we can start the process of approaching the LA for help much earlier if we know that someone is at risk of becoming homeless.

Having said that, the service that our guests may receive when they do approach the LA can vary widely from borough-to-borough.  

As stocks of social housing continue to dwindle and supported accommodation projects close, the majority of homeless people are being pushed towards the private rented sector (PRS). However, other than a brief period during Covid, the mainstream PRS remains largely impenetrable to people on benefits.  

This means that the only route that remains to them are schemes run by a handful of agencies which specialise in placing people on benefits in very small studios for which the rent is charged at the maximum benefit rate payable (with no connection to what the market rate for such a property would be), with an explicit expectation that the tenant stays on benefits (as the rent would be unaffordable if they moved into work).

These studios are overwhelmingly in further out parts of London, often in poor condition and crammed into buildings with a number of other people who have been homeless and are therefore more likely to have vulnerabilities and needs which make interactions challenging.

Furthermore, these schemes offer no support to try to manage these situations if conflict or anti-social behaviour occurs. 

One option that LAs now offer to many homeless people under the HRA is to offer landlords a deposit, incentive or bond, both for PRS properties guests may source themselves or for viewings that LAs send them to. My hope had been that, where people were being referred into PRS accommodation via the LA, this would either open up new benefits-accepting PRS options for people or force the existing schemes to improve their offer, as I expected that accommodation people were being referred to via LAs would have to meet certain minimum standards.  

There are some LAs where we have relatively positive experiences of quick and appropriate PRS referrals, but unfortunately the more common experience is that LAs are simply handing out the same lists of viewings from the existing PRS schemes we deal with that we are already being sent.  

This means that that unless a guest stands a chance of being considered Priority Need there is little benefit to us encouraging a guest to approach a LA under the HRA.

The process would involve spending a lot of time filling in paperwork to determine whether the LA will provide them with a service or not, only for them to be sent on the same viewings we could have sent them on directly ourselves in the first place. 

In one sense, the overall effect has in fact been negative on our ability to help guests into PRS accommodation; the schemes which used to take people on without any kind of deposit or incentive being paid have now come to expect this from their dealings with LAs, and so guests we send directly who cannot offer this are less likely to be prioritised for a property.    

What have you seen change through your work in the homelessness sector over the last 5 years?  

In addition to the HRA meaning that LAs have a duty to provide a service to many more people around their homelessness, the other major change of the last 5 years has of course been Covid.  

Whilst there was an incredible response to the challenges faced by how to support homeless people during a pandemic, this has left little long-term impact on the support offered by LAs.

The major, sadly negative, impact was more on how that support was delivered, with a move towards remote working and service delivery, which for the majority of LAs has remained primarily remote since restrictions lifted. Again, there are exceptions, but for a number of LA Housing Departments it is now impossible for someone who is homeless to go in and be seen in person 

This is hugely problematic for our guests, many of whom struggle with digital inclusion or communication over the phone.

It also becomes a gatekeeping technique for LAs where Housing Officers can essentially become inaccessible and caseworkers are spending more and more of our time in futile pursuit of LA staff who cannot be reached by phone and don’t respond to email after email, leaving guests in limbo in terms of the service they should be receiving. 

In the homeless sector more broadly, the EU Settlement Scheme was incredibly transformative, allowing many EEA nationals who had been legally in the country but unable to maintain employment (and therefore became entrenched in homelessness) an easier route to establish entitlement to benefits and housing, meaning that many of them were finally able to be housed. However, Covid really drove home the need for services to be able to respond to homeless people who don’t have a clear and established entitlement to housing support; many people who had lived (in many cases for years) in precarious situations, getting by on cash-in-hand work or sleeping in overcrowded rooms, were shaken out by lockdown restrictions and suddenly found themselves with nowhere to go.  

As a result the charities which ran the emergency Covid hotels found that it was hard to move many of their residents on into their own accommodation because of complex immigration issues.

None of this was new to us, as we have seen it in our shelters (as one of the few free provisions that people without an income can turn to) year-on-year. However, the positive result of this wider appreciation has been much more strategic work and funding to ensure that the homeless sector has access to routes for qualified immigration advice and fast-tracking of cases for our guests, developments which we have played a significant role in feeding into the need for.        


What do you think are the current barriers to the HRA achieving the outcomes it aimed to achieve?  

Primarily, it all comes down to resources: LAs need the funding to be able to properly respond to the additional requirements placed on them by the HRA, which in most cases they are clearly struggling with.  

I would argue that we also need investment to ensure a wider range of housing options that can be responsive to people’s different circumstances.

That would mean more investment in Social Housing, because while we push everyone into the PRS, with no security or support, many of those people will just come back into homeless services as soon as the landlord wants their property back or rents are raised above the Local Housing Allowance rate.  

We also need:  

  • more supported accommodation projects for people to transition gradually into more independent living 
  • emergency options for people without access to benefits or Home Office accommodation while they resolve their situations 
  • projects for under 35 year olds, who are only eligible for a lower rate of the Local Housing Allowance, and are consequently excluded from the majority of properties offered via PRS agencies, which have no financial incentive to cater to them 
  • projects for people who carry out precarious employment and so may need to move between benefits and wages as their source of income for paying rent 

We also need reform of the private rented sector to make it easier to force managing agencies to ensure properties meet minimum standards for habitation. Finally, we need steps to be taken to ensure greater integration between LA housing and social services departments, which almost universally seem unable to work together currently, which significantly impacts our ability to support guests who may not have access to benefits but have serious medical needs. 

If you would like to help us support people on their pathway out of homelessness, please consider making a donation. 

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