The Ministry of Housing has updated the statutory guidance on homelessness and housing allocations in England.
On 29 June 2020 the Government amended the statutory homelessness guidance.
Two additional paragraphs were added to Chapter 8.
The paragraphs concern vulnerability because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Paragraph 8.44 states
COVID-19: Housing authorities should carefully consider the vulnerability of applicants from COVID-19. Applicants who have been identified by their GP or a specialist as clinically extremely vulnerable are likely to be assessed as having priority need. The vulnerability of applicants who are clinically vulnerable should also be considered in the context of COVID-19. Some applicants may report having medical conditions which are named in the guidance but have not yet been identified by a health professional as being clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, in which case it may be necessary to seek a clinical opinion in order to confirm their health needs.
The guidance links to other Government (non-statutory) guidance in relation to:
Given that the burden is on the council to make necessary inquiries (as opposed to a homeless applicant having to 'prove' their vulnerability or provide evidence), one would expect decision-makers to seek a clinical opinion, as stated in the last sentence of para 8.44. At least where there is (or may be) a medical issue that might potentially result in a person being vulnerable when homeless, and factual issues need to be established.
Para 8.45 goes on to state:
Housing authorities should also carefully consider whether people with a history of rough sleeping should be considered vulnerable in the context of COVID-19, taking into account their age and underlying health conditions. Further guidance on clinical support for people with a history of rough sleeping can be found in the COVID-19 clinical homeless sector plan.
The 'Homeless sector plan' is guidance, primarily for health professionals, which sets out clinical advice and guidance on delivering a health-led, multi-agency approach to reducing the risk of infection and severe illness among rough sleepers as a result of COVID-19.
The additional two paragraphs potentially provide English councils with more leeway than the corresponding guidance issued by the Welsh Government (depending of course on the facts of a particular case).
It's perhaps surprising that the guidance doesn't, in the interests of clarity, confirm the Government's view on how the 'emergency' provision at s.189(1)(d) should be interpreted, and how vulnerability might arise because of a 'special reason' in the context of the pandemic (s.189(1)(c))
The above follows guidance issued on 27 June 2020 in relation to the allocation of social housing.
Entitled 'Improving access to social housing to social housing to members of the armed forces', the guidance is supplementary to the existing guidance.
It is suggested that local authorities review their allocation schemes in light of the revision (para 4).