Homelessness and the duty to refer – guidance for NHS staff

New guidance for NHS trusts and foundation trusts has been published by the Department of Health and Social Care on the duty to refer service users who may be homeless or threatened with homelessness to a local housing authority.

Health providers already support and refer service users who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as part of their safeguarding responsibilities and usual daily work. The duty to refer seeks to extend the good practice that already exists and ensure that services are working together to prevent homelessness.

This duty came into effect on 1 October 2018 under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 which introduced a new legal duty on specified public services – for health services, the impact will be on trusts and foundation trusts in the provision of any of the following NHS health services:

  • accident and emergency services in a hospital
  • urgent treatment centres
  • in-patient treatment (of any kind)

NHS staff who come into contact with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness are under a duty to refer to local housing authority – the minimum legal requirement for a referral is the inclusion of:

  • the individual’s contact details
  • the individual’s consent
  • the agreed reason for the referral (that they are homeless or threatened with homelessness)

Health providers in consultation with the Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health have developed a downloadable example referral form for hospitals to use. However, health providers may make a referral to a local housing authority in any manner they wish providing they include the minimum of information required by law, as set out above. Local housing authorities have been asked to provide a standard email address that duty to refer referrals can be sent to: dutytorefer@[insertlocalauthorityname].gov.uk. To find out more, you can read the Department’s guidance here.

While there is no sanction in the Act for breach of the duty there is the possibility of it being enforced through contractual means by commissioners or by judicial review.

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