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Repeat homelessness applications

Posted on 10/01/22 in Housing Matters

Repeat homelessness applications

Daniel Norton and Douglas Jensen look at what a local authority must do when a person reapplies as homeless following a previous decision. 

This article is for professionals with an understanding of the homeless application process. 

When a person can make a fresh homelessness application

A person can make a fresh homeless application to a local authority even after a duty under a previous homelessness application has been discharged. There is no period of disqualification following a negative decision. Section 193(9) of the Housing Act 1996 confirms that this includes where the local authority has discharged the main housing duty. 

A person might need to make a fresh application due to a change in circumstances or a new instance of homelessness. The burden is on the applicant to present the facts that differentiate a fresh application. 

How the local authority should deal with a repeat application

The Act does not specify the threshold that the authority should apply before taking a repeat homelessness application. The courts have established that the local authority must decide whether there are any new facts that make the case different from the earlier application. The local authority can reject the application if the facts brought to its attention are fanciful, trivial or not new.

The local authority should compare the facts at the date of the fresh application with those at the date of its decision on the earlier application (or review decision, if there was one). 

When the repeat application reveals new facts, which are neither trivial nor fanciful then the authority must accept the application. 

Comparing the new application to the previous decision

An authority cannot reject an application simply because they believe they would likely reach the same decision as the previous application. 

While the burden is on the applicant to identify new facts, this is a much lower standard than having to demonstrate that the authority might reach a different decision.

If the local authority accepts that there are new facts, it must accept a homeless application in order to make inquiries about the new facts, and what duties it might owe the applicant. 

What are new facts?

New facts can include anything that means the circumstances of the two applications are not exactly the same. If a person’s housing situation has changed then this is likely to be a new fact. For example, if a person finds new accommodation and is then evicted. 

A change in the makeup of the applicant’s household will often constitute a new fact. For example, if a partner has joined the household or the applicant has had a child. 

New facts can include information that was available at the time of the original decision but which the authority had not considered. In Ibrahim v Westminster City Council [2021] the threshold for a new application was met by presentation of fresh medical evidence that was available at the time of the decision but not considered by the authority.

New facts can also include new information on existing conditions. In R (on the application of Hoyte) v Southwark LBC [2016] a medical expert revised their previous opinion on the applicant’s risk of suicide after learning of subsequent suicidal ideation.

The local authority accepts a new application

The local authority must carry out inquiries into what duty is owed to the applicant if it accepts a fresh homelessness application. The decision on what duty is owed could be the same or different from the original application. 

For example, if a person who was found intentionally homeless was then evicted from new accommodation this would be a new fact. The authority would have to accept a fresh application. However, the authority might still find the applicant intentionally homeless if:

  • the new accommodation was not settled
  • there had been no break in the chain of causation that led to their homelessness

The local authority does not accept a fresh application

The local authority does not need to accept a fresh application or to carry out further inquiries if it considers that there have been no new facts presented

 A person does not have the right to request an internal review of a local authority's decision not to process a fresh homeless application. This is because it is not one of the decisions specified in section 202 of the Act.

The person could challenge the local authority's decision through judicial review in the High Court. The court can interfere with the decision if it concludes that: 

  • the decision was unlawful
  • the authority failed to consider a relevant fact
  • the authority failed to follow the correct procedure
  • no reasonable authority could have come to that decision

Strict time limits apply to applications for judicial review. The application must be made promptly, and in any case within three months. The person will need advice and representation from a solicitor. Legal aid is available to help challenge a local authority decision through judicial review.

The person could make a complaint to the local authority if there is an issue with the way the authority has dealt with the application. If the complaint is not resolved they could ask the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) to investigate.

Fresh application or review?

An applicant might be able to challenge the original decision to end the previous homelessness duty.

An applicant has the right to request a review of a local authority's decision to discharge the prevention, relief, or main housing duty. The applicant has 21 days to request a review. The authority has the discretion to accept an out of time review.

If a request is made out of time, the local authority should consider both the reason for the delay and the prospects of success. 

A fresh application has the advantage that the authority must provide interim accommodation if there is reason to believe the applicant may be eligible, homeless and priority need. If the applicant requests a review out of time, the authority does not have a duty to accommodate the applicant pending the review decision, but it has the power to provide accommodation. 

In most cases, it is in the applicant’s interest to make a new application if there are obvious new facts. 

Appeals

If the authority has already carried out an internal review, the applicant can appeal to the County Court on a point of law arising from the review decision. They must do so within 21 days of being notified of the review decision. The court has the discretion to allow a late appeal in certain circumstances if there is a good reason for the delay.    

Applying to a different authority

If the person makes a homeless application to a different local authority, that second authority cannot refuse to accept an application because of the first authority having discharged their duty. 

The second authority must accept an application and make inquiries if it has reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless or threatened with homelessness. It can consider what the first authority discovered in its investigations, but it must form its own conclusions based upon its own inquiries.

If the applicant has no local connection to the second authority, it may be able to refer them back to the first authority. If a referral is made at the point where the main housing duty would have arisen, the applicant is treated as having applied to the first authority. The first authority must accept a duty once it accepts that the conditions for a referral are met, unless the application is based on exactly the same facts as the original application.

Further reading

Shelter Legal 

Multiple, repeat and withdrawn homeless applications

Homeless application process

When main housing duty ends

Referral of a homeless applicant to another local authority

About the authors

Daniel Norton is an NHAS consultancy line adviser.

Douglas Jensen is a senior legal editor at Shelter.