Homelessness and Emergency Housing

Duty of Public Authority to Refer

This content applies to England

The duty of specified public authorities to refer a homeless person or a person threatened with homelessness to a local housing authority.

This duty came into effect 1 October 2018.

Should you wish to refer a homeless person to Ribble Valley Borough Council please use the email address dutytorefer@ribblevalley.gov.uk. You must include the person’s name, date of birth, contact details and reason for homelessness as a minimum.

Duty to refer

Certain public authorities must notify a local housing authority in England, where one of its service users:

  • may be homeless or at risk of homelessness, and
  • agrees to the referral.

The public authority must allow the service user to choose to which local authority they would like the referral to be made. The Homelessness Code of Guidance suggests that a service user is provided with information on how local connection is defined to inform their decision. Government guidance 'A guide to the duty to refer' reminds referring authorities that a service user who asks to be referred to an area where s/he has no local connection may be referred on to an area where s/he does have a connection, and to be aware of this when offering guidance to a service user on which authority to choose.

Which public authorities have a duty to refer

The following are public authorities with a duty to refer:

  • prisons (public and contracted out)
  • youth offender institutions and youth offending teams
  • secure training centres (public and contracted out) and colleges
  • probation services (community rehabilitation companies and national probation service)
  • jobcentre plus
  • accident and emergency services provided in a hospital
  • urgent treatment centres, and hospitals in their capacity of providing in-patient treatment
  • social service authorities.

The Ministry of Defence is also subject to the duty to refer in relation to members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the regular army and the Royal Air Force.

Identifying when a referral might be required

Government guidance on the duty to refer states that, whilst staff in a public authority may know if a service user is sleeping rough, or is homeless but not roofless (perhaps because they are 'sofa-surfing' and provide a care of address, or because they frequently change address), it may be more difficult to identify a person who is threatened with homelessness. The guidance suggests that service users should be asked if they have:

  • debt problems
  • problems with a landlord such as being threatened with eviction
  • experienced domestic abuse or other threats/violence
  • a history of being in care, armed forces or prison
  • accommodation available if they are approaching discharge from hospital, armed forces or custody.