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Duty to refer - information for professionals

The purpose of Duty to Refer is to help people access homelessness services as soon as possible, to prevent them becoming homelessness or (if they're already homeless) to put an end to it.

There is now a legal requirement for some public services to refer its service users if:

  • they are homeless
  • they are threatened with homelessness

In both the above, they must agree to the referral. This is called Duty to Refer.

Public services must allow the service user to choose which council they would like to referred to. The service user must be advised of how local connection is defined before the referral is made. 

Who has a Duty to Refer

The following services are required to complete a duty to refer

  • accident and emergency services provided in hospital
  • hospitals when providing in-patient care
  • Jobcentre Plus
  • prisons
  • probation services including rehabilitation companies
  • regular forces (Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the regular Army and the Royal Air Force)
  • secure training centres and colleges
  • social services authorities
  • urgent treatment centres (including community, primary urgent centres, minor injury units and walk in centres)
  • youth offender institutions

If your agency is not listed, you may still refer service users providing your service user agrees to be referred.

What you must do

Identify referral

You may know if a service user is sleeping rough and is already homeless. You may also know if your service user is homeless, but has somewhere to stay (sometimes described as 'sofa surfers') if they provide 'care of' addresses or often change their address.

Identifying that a family, couple or individual is threatened with homelessness is less straight forward. The following are factors that could indicate that a service user may be facing homelessness. This is when you should ask them about their housing circumstances:

  • problems with debt, particularly rent or mortgage arrears
  • problems with a landlord, being threatened with eviction or served notice to leave
  • being a victim of domestic abuse, or other forms of violence, threats or intimidation
  • approaching discharge from hospital, armed forces or release from custody, with no accommodation available to them
  • having previously been in care, the armed forces or in prison

Obtain consent

If you think that a service user is homeless or is facing homelessness, you must ask them if they would like to be a referred to a local council. You must have this consent (it is a legal requirement) before you can make a referral.

Identify which council to make the referral to

The service user should identify which local council they would like to be referred to. This could be anywhere in England. However, when discussing the referral and offering guidance, please make the service user aware that local councils owe more duties towards homeless applicants who have a local connection within an area.

Complete the referral form

Please refer through the North East Duty to Refer portal.

What happens next

When a council receives a referral, they will contact the individual and carry out an assessment. If this assessment gives them reason to believe that the person may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, this will trigger a homelessness application.