Under section 167 of the Housing Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”), local authorities must allocate housing in accordance with their allocation scheme. Such schemes must give reasonable preference to certain categories of person (e.g. those who are homeless, those in overcrowded housing and those who need to move on medical or welfare grounds). The legislation also allows (but does not require) local authorities to take into account other factors in determining relative priorities between those in the reasonable preference categories, including whether or not a person has a local connection with the local authority district. Local connection is defined by s.199 of the 1996 Act. This is particularly relevant in the case of service personnel, since, under the current legislation, a person will not establish a local connection with an area because of residence or employment while he is posted there in the armed forces.
The homelessness legislation (Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996) provides an important safety net for people who become homeless or threatened with homelessness. In particular, English local housing authorities must secure suitable accommodation for applicants who are eligible for assistance, homeless through no fault of their own and fall within a priority need group. The priority need groups include applicants who are vulnerable for some reason, including those vulnerable as a result of having been a member of the armed forces.
The Housing and Regeneration Bill which is currently before Parliament will amend section 199 to remove the provisions which prevent members of the armed forces from establishing a local connection in a district through employment or residence and will ensure that members of the armed forces are put on an equal footing with civilians when applying to local authorities for social housing and/or homelessness assistance.