News article

The Localism Act, SWEP & Local Authorities

Posted on 05/12/19

Whether you celebrate it or not, you can’t have failed to notice that a certain winter-based festival is almost upon us. The days are short, the queues are long, and the temperatures have well and truly plummeted. At breakfast this morning, I heard the news report on Shelter’s figures that 130,000 children will be living in temporary accommodation this Christmas. This happened to emerge from the radio just as I was worrying about finishing my own child’s new bedroom by Christmas so, naturally, it put things into perspective for me.

Not all of us are so lucky of course, and many rough sleepers may turn to the council for help over the next few months. Housing officers faced with difficult conversations may be grateful for a reminder about the s.1 Localism Act 2011, which gives local authorities a general power to accommodate. Well, specifically it gives them a “general power of competence” and the “power to do anything that individuals generally do [that might otherwise be something the authority doesn’t do]”. Clear as mud I know, but trust me, this means there is a power to provide a place to stay, if resources allow, and circumstances dictate.

Take an illegal eviction case that came through to the consultancy line recently. A non-priority need man arrived home from work to find his property boarded up. The responsible party was someone his landlord owed money to, with said landlord refusing to comment. As terrible weekends go, this one is surely pretty close to the top of the list. So, the local authority was looking at whether they could put him up for the night at least, even though no statutory duty was owed. The answer was that yes, they could, if they had the room and he had no options.

It’s also time to think about SWEP; the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol. This applies all year round but comes with guidance on extended winter provision. SWEP reflects another power for local authorities, not a duty, but is there to prevent deaths amongst rough sleepers. It is in the spirit that there is “a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do all they can to prevent deaths on the streets, and for their partners and the public to support these efforts.”

Of all the good stuff here, something worth highlighting is the key themes from 2018/2019, which local authorities might want to focus on this winter. One of these is adopting a flexible approach to the triggers for opening SWEP, rather than the more common practice of waiting for extended periods below freezing. In other words, there is no rule that the provision should only come into force after three nights below 0.

Most of the emergency winter shelters are now opening their doors too, with Homeless Link listing those in London, and Pavement giving information about the rest of the country too. Remember that some might not accept self-referral. Remember SWEP. Remember Localism. And remember to wear the right coat; it’s cold out.

By Beki Heaton, NHAS Consultancy Line Adviser
The NHAS 2nd tier consultancy is available for all housing, housing debt and benefits issues. You can call the consultancy line on 0300 330 0517 for advice. If you’d like to access free training courses head to our training pages.

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