The Homelessness Reduction Bill
Tabled by Conservative backbencher Bob Blackman in June 2016 and based on a report commissioned by the charity Crisis, this private members’ Bill is intended to amend Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 to place additional duties on councils to prevent homelessness by further assisting those at risk of becoming homeless.
There were two fundamental proposals. Firstly, to extend the definition of ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 to 56 days. The intention is that local councils will intervene earlier. And secondly, local councils will have to accept a valid Notice to Quit, or equivalent, as evidence that a tenant is threatened with homelessness. This is a hugely significant change from the current position as set out in the case of Sacupima v Newham LBC  1 W.L.R. 563 whereby a council does not have to accept a person as homeless until they are physically evicted, which has led to tenants being advised to remain in their property until the bailiffs arrive.
In addition to these two major developments, the Bill also proposes amendments to the Housing Act 1996 to create stronger duties in the following areas: advice and information, prevention, relief for those with a local connection and emergency accommodation for those with nowhere safe to stay.
On 28 October 2016 the Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons meaning it has now progressed to Committee stage to be scrutinised. While it has quite some way to go, it is notable that the Bill has, to date, received quite significant cross-party support from MPs and backing from the Government.
Shadow Housing Minister John Healey, while backing the Bill, raised the issue of how local councils are going to be able to fund the additional duties proposed. The Minister for Local Government, Marcus Jones, responded by saying that additional funding would be made available by the Government although no details have been provided as to how much and where the money would come from.
Despite being labelled ‘gesture politics’ by Labour’s Mike Gapes for its failure to provide extra homes, the focus on earlier intervention by councils is to be welcomed and could potentially prove to be of huge benefit assuming funds are forthcoming.