This article explores the special provisions which apply to groups who are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and refers to the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, February 2018 (the 2018 Code).
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Local authority duties
Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996) sets out the statutory framework for assessing whether or not a person will be owed a duty, and if so what duty, by a local authority if they are homeless. References in this article to various sections refer to sections of HA 1996.
In 2002, the Government amended the homelessness legislation through the Homelessness Act 2002 and the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002, SI 2002/2051 to:
• ensure a more strategic approach to tackling and preventing homelessness, in particular by requiring a homelessness strategy for every local housing authority (LHA) district; and
• strengthen the assistance available to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness by extending the priority need categories to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds; care leavers aged 18, 19 and 20; people who are vulnerable as a result of time spent in care, the armed forces, prison or custody, and people who are vulnerable because they have fled their home because of violence
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA 2017) significantly reformed England’s homelessness legislation by placing duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas. It also requires housing authorities to provide homelessness services to all those affected, not just those who have ‘priority need.’ These include:
• an enhanced prevention duty extending the period a household is threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days, meaning that housing authorities are required to work with people to prevent homelessness at an earlier stage, and
• a new duty for those who are already homeless so that housing authorities will support households for 56 days to relieve their homelessness by helping them to secure accommodation.
The LHA has a duty to provide advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness and the rights of homeless people or those at risk of homelessness, as well as the help that is available from the LHA or others and how to access that help. The service should be designed with certain listed vulnerable groups in mind and authorities can provide it themselves or arrange for other agencies to do it on their behalf.
LHAs should pay particular attention to the promotion and protection of rights of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, victims of sexual discrimination, children and elderly people.
Who are vulnerable people?
HRA 2017 is concerned with particular groups of people who are at risk of homelessness.
Joint working with social services and joint strategy
The emphasis of the reforms introduced to the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996) by HRA 2017 is on early intervention to ensure that people do not become homeless. The early intervention strategy starts with the LHA’s policy and procedure.
In non-unitary districts, where the social services authority and the LHA are different authorities, HA 2002, s 1(2) requires the social services authority to give the LHA such assistance as may be reasonably required in carrying out a homelessness review and formulating and publishing a homelessness strategy.
HA 2002, s 3(1)(c) provides that the homelessness strategy should secure the satisfactory provision of support for people in the district who are or may be homeless, or who have been homeless and need support to prevent them becoming homeless again.
Since a large proportion of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will be vulnerable adults or have children in their care, it will always be necessary to seek assistance from the social services authority to formulate an effective homelessness strategy. In unitary authorities, the authority must ensure that the social services department assists the housing department in carrying out a homelessness review and in formulating and publishing a homelessness strategy.
For the purposes of formulating a strategy, this might include providing information about the current and projected numbers of vulnerable adults within the district that might be at higher risk of homelessness, and the care, support and accommodation available to them.
Children’s social care services could provide, for example, future projections of young people leaving care who are likely to require accommodation and support, families provided with accommodation who are ineligible for assistance (some of which might become eligible), and the numbers of safeguarding alerts involving domestic abuse, poor housing conditions or other factors that might indicate a need for homelessness assistance.
Each local authority has a legal duty under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to take such steps as it con-siders appropriate for improving the health of the people in its area. This includes people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Housing authorities should ensure that their homelessness strategy is co-ordinated with the Health and Wellbeing Strategy, and that their review of homelessness informs and is informed by the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.
Housing authorities will also wish to involve teams responsible for delivering the ‘troubled families’ programme in developing and delivering a strategy that helps to prevent the most vulnerable families from becoming homeless.
The social services authority must comply with all reasonable requests for assistance from housing authorities within their district.
HRA 2017 has a heavy emphasis on joint working, partnership agreements and joint strategies so that vulnerable people are supported to avoid homelessness, or to access suitable accommodation before becoming homeless.
This heavy emphasis on joint working is a continuation of the assessment and co-operation model found in section 1 of the Care Act 2014 (CA 2014).
According to the care and support statutory guidance, all service providers, including housing and housing support providers, should have clear operational policies and procedures that reflect the framework set by the Safeguarding Adult Boards in consultation with them. This should include what circumstances would lead to the need to report outside their own chain of line management, including outside their organisation to the local authority. They need to share information with relevant partners such as the local authority even where they are taking action themselves.
It is envisaged with HRA 2017 reforms that early intervention to support, assess, and work with more partner agencies will prevent many from being homeless.
Information and advice to prevent homelessness
The provision of information and advice to all is a significant new feature of HRA 2017.
HA 1996, s 179(2) states that housing authorities must design advice and information services to meet the needs of people within their district including, in particular, the needs of the following groups:
• people released from prison or youth detention accommodation (2018 Code, Ch 23)
• care leavers (2018 Code, Ch 22).
• former members of the regular armed forces (2018 Code, Ch 24)
• victims of domestic abuse (2018 Code, Ch 21)
• people leaving hospital
• people suffering from a mental illness or impairment, and
• any other group that the authority identify as being at particular risk of homelessness in their district (2018 Code, Ch 8)
The advice that they are provided must advise these groups on how to prevent homelessness, secure accommodation when homeless, and provide assistance from other agencies who may be in a position to assist them.
The provision of advice and information on care and support is also a statutory requirement pursuant to the care and support statutory guidance. The authority is not required to provide all elements of this service, rather, they are expected under this duty to understand, co-ordinate and make effective use of other statutory, voluntary and or private sector information and advice resources within their area in order to deliver more integrated information and advice.
Examples of some national resources are:
• FirstStop Advice
• The Money Advice Service
• NHS Choices: Your guide to care and support
Housing authorities are expected to provide information and advice, or ensure that such is available, since the commencement of HRA 2017 on 3 April 2018.
Vulnerable people and the duty on public services to refer them to the LHA
Under HA 1996, s 213B, certain public authorities are required to notify an LHA of service users they consider may be homeless or threatened with homelessness (ie it is likely they will become homeless within 56 days).
Before making a referral a public authority must:
• have consent to the referral from the individual
• allow the individual to identify the LHA in England which they would like the notification to be made to, and
• have consent from the individual that their contact details can be supplied so the LHA can contact them regarding the referral
The duty to refer only applies to public authorities in England and individuals can only be referred to housing authorities in England.
The public authorities which are subject to the duty to refer are specified in the Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018, SI 2018/223. The public services included in the duty are as follows:
• youth offender institutions
• secure training centres
• secure colleges
• youth offending teams
• probation services (including community rehabilitation companies)
• Jobcentre Plus
• social service authorities
• emergency departments
• urgent treatment centres, and
• hospitals in their function of providing inpatient care
Public authorities are not expected to conduct housing needs assessments as part of the HA 1996, s 213B duty to refer.
Some public authorities that are subject to the duty to refer will be required to provide accommodation for certain individuals as part of their own legal duties, for example as an element of care or supervision. Examples include social services authorities with a duty to accommodate a lone 16- or 17-year-old under the Children Act 1989 (ChA 1989) or a vulnerable adult under CA 2014.
When a referral is received, there must be alternative joint working approaches in place to ensure that the primary responsibility to provide accommodation which would prevent or address homelessness lies with the specified service. This is to avoid a homeless applicant falling between services, with nobody taking responsibility.
Vulnerable people and the housing needs assessment and personal housing plan
Housing needs assessment
The LHA are under a duty to assess the applicant’s housing needs and agree steps that will assist them to avoid becoming homeless (HA 1996, s 189A)
In particular, the LHA are obliged to conduct a face-to-face interview (2018 Code, Ch 11.3).
An assessment of the applicant’s needs, including their support needs, is of particular interest to vulnerable groups. Housing authorities must not limit the assessed needs of applicants to ‘apparent’ needs, or those needs that have been notified to it. Local authorities must promote wellbeing when carrying out care and support functions, or making a decision in relation to a person, as required under CA 2014.
Housing authorities are expected to tease out relevant support needs from applicants during the assessment stage. If an applicant is reluctant to disclose a support need, the LHA needs to adopt a sensitive and reassuring encouragement so that they can best assist in preventing or relieving homelessness (2018 Code, Ch 11.9).
It may be the case that a person’s needs are beyond that which the LHA can provide. There may be health care or social support considerations. Housing authorities should make use of CA 2014 powers to meet urgent care needs and support needs where an assessment has not been completed.
There exist some guides which an LHA may wish to refer to for assistance in understanding a person’s needs. For example, for blind and partially sighted people— A guide for local authorities, published by Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) and Action for Blind People, is a good practice guide that helps inform local authorities’ understanding of the extent and impact of sight impairment, the main causes and risk factors and the effects on people’s lives.
Following the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, people must be assumed to have capacity to make their own decisions and be given all practicable help before anyone treats them as not being able to make their own decisions.
Challenges many professionals face occur particularly where it appears an adult has capacity for making specific decisions that nevertheless places them at risk of being abused or neglected. Safeguarding policies must be engaged.
In WB v W District Council  EWCA Civ 928, the Court of Appeal concluded that persons who lack mental capacity are not able to be made offers of accommodation under HA 1996, Pt VII. Accordingly, their needs must be met in other ways, for example through arrangements made by a deputy or through proceedings in the Court of Protection.
Local authorities must cooperate with each of their relevant partners, as described in CA 2014, s 6(3), and those partners must also cooperate with the local authority, in the exercise of their functions relevant to care and support including those to protect adults.
The approach of the CA 2014 is to ‘meet need’, as opposed to duties to provide specific services, is not intended to place additional requirements on local authorities. Nevertheless, the HRA 2017 provisions dovetail with the approach in the CA 2014—to assess, support and meet a need to prevent homelessness.
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Personalised housing plan
Once the housing needs assessment has taken place, the LHA and the applicant must agree mandatory and recommended steps to take to prevent, or relieve, homelessness. This is the personalised housing plan (HA 1996, s 189A).
It is important for the vulnerable person to be honest about what they can realistically achieve in terms of the steps that they are able to take to help themselves. It may be necessary to obtain medical evidence to demonstrate the extent of the applicant’s ability to comply with steps which form part of the personalised housing plan.
LHA officers are required to have sufficient training to understand the needs to vulnerable people, but housing officers are not medically trained and no assumptions should be made that the housing officer will know, or appreciate, limitations on a person’s ability to assist themselves to prevent or relieve their homelessness. It is very much a combined effort to agree, and keep in review, the personalised housing plan.
It may be that a person needs housing-related support.
Housing-related support services have a key role in preventing homelessness occurring or recurring. The types of housing-related support that households who have experienced homelessness may include:
• support in establishing a suitable home—help, advice and support in finding and maintaining suitable accommodation for independent living in the community
• support with daily living skills—help, advice and training in the day-to-day skills needed for living in-dependently, such as budgeting and cooking
• support in accessing benefits, health and community care services—information, advice and help in claiming benefits or accessing community care or health services
• help in establishing and maintaining social support—help in rebuilding or establishing social networks that can help counter isolation and help support independent living
Housing authorities are obliged to have special strategies for dealing with vulnerable groups including:
• support for single people (2018 Code, Ch 2.65–2.67)
• support for rough sleepers (2018 Code, Ch 2.68–2.70)
• support for families(2018 Code, Ch2.71–2.72)
• support for victims of domestic violence (2018 Code, Ch 2.73–2.74, 2018 Code, Ch 21)
• support for households in temporary accommodation( 2018 Code, Ch 2.75)
• support for victims of modern slavery and trafficking (2018 Code, Ch 25)
• support for care leavers (2018 Code, Ch 22)
• support for people with an offending history (2018 Code, Ch 23 CA 2014, s 76 Care and support statutory guidance, Ch 17)
• support for former members of the Armed Forces (2018 Code, Ch 24)
CA 2014 provides statutory guidance to local authorities on what behaviours constitute physical abuse, do-mestic violence, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial or material abuse, modern slavery, discriminatory abuse, organisational abuse, neglect and acts of omission.
Where there are adult safeguarding risks, as well as a need to support to protect an adult, reference to the care and support statutory guidance points to the requirement to have policies and procedures in place. Procedures may include:
• a statement of purpose relating to promoting wellbeing, preventing harm and responding effectively if concerns are raised
• a statement of roles and responsibility, authority and accountability sufficiently specific to ensure that all staff and volunteers understand their role and limitations
• a statement of the procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse, including those for dealing with emergencies by ensuring immediate safety, the processes for initially assessing abuse and neglect and deciding when intervention is appropriate, and the arrangements for reporting to the police, ur-gently when necessary
• a full list of points of referral indicating how to access support and advice at all times, whether in normal working hours or outside them, with a comprehensive list of contact addresses and telephone numbers, including relevant national and local voluntary bodies
• an indication of how to record allegations of abuse and neglect, any enquiry and all subsequent action
• a list of sources of expert advice
• a full description of channels of inter-agency communication and procedures for information sharing and for decision making
• a list of all services which might offer access to support or redress
• how professional disagreements are resolved especially with regard to whether decisions should be made, enquiries undertaken for example
CA 2014 requires that each local authority must arrange for an independent advocate to represent and support an adult who is the subject of a safeguarding enquiry or Safeguarding Adult Review where the adult has ‘substantial difficulty’ in being involved in the process and where there is no other suitable person to represent and support them.
Where someone is over 18 but still receiving children’s services and a safeguarding issue is raised, the matter should be dealt with as a matter of course by the adult safeguarding team.
Agencies should stress the need for preventing abuse and neglect wherever possible. Observant professionals and other staff making early, positive interventions with individuals and families can make a huge difference to their lives, preventing the deterioration of a situation or breakdown of a support network. It is often when people become increasingly isolated and cut off from families and friends that they become extremely vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Agencies should implement robust risk management processes in order to prevent concerns escalating to a crisis point and requiring intervention under safeguarding adult procedures.
Housing authorities are as much accountable to social services in delivering safeguarding of vulnerable groups as social services are to housing authorities to assist in the prevention and relief of homelessness. The emphasis lies with joint working.
Homelessness Reduction and CA 2014
CA 2014, together with the Care and support statutory guidance which accompanies it, applies to housing authorities as they carry out their duties in relation to adults. In particular, there are 6 key principles which underpin all adult safeguarding:
• empowerment—people being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent
• prevention—it is better to take action before harm occurs
• proportionality—the least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented
• protection—support and representation for those in greatest need
• partnership—local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse
• accountability—accountability and transparency in delivering safeguarding
Vulnerable groups who are threatened with homelessness or who are homeless are likely to engage safe-guarding protocols.
Vulnerable people and the prevention duty
The prevention duty applies when an applicant is threatened with homelessness within 56 days of presenting to the LHA. The aim of the prevention duty is to ensure that the applicant does not become homeless.
The applicant and the LHA must work together, through the steps set out in the personalized housing plan, to prevent homelessness.
Housing authorities must take into account the needs and circumstances of the applicant as they work to fulfil the prevention duty, recognising that there are a range of factors that will affect an applicants’ ability to take action to help prevent their homelessness.
For some more vulnerable applicants, the factors that have contributed to their being threatened with homelessness may also affect their ability to work with the LHA to resolve that threat.
The LHA will want to seek to understand these factors and tailor the support it provides, both directly and through engaging relevant specialist services, accordingly.
Where homelessness is prevented, but an applicant’s needs may put them at risk of a further threat of homelessness, the LHA will want to work with relevant support and specialist services to help promote sustainability. This means that even though homelessness is averted, a vulnerable person may still be entitled to continuing support to ensure that they retain their home.
If homelessness is prevented by support into accommodation by a pathway service, advisors may wish to ensure that the LHA do not discharge their prevention duty unless the accommodation will be available for at least six months.
Support should be seriously considered to ensure that accommodation is not lost if there is a continued risk of future homelessness.
Vulnerable people and the relief duty
The relief duty requires housing authorities to help people who are homeless to secure accommodation.
The applicant and the LHA must work together, through the steps set out in the personalized housing plan, to relieve homelessness.
If the LHA have reason to believe a person is vulnerable then as soon as the person is homeless, they will be under the HA 1996, s 188(1) duty to provide interim accommodation.
The LHA should still work with the vulnerable applicant to relieve homelessness where possible, by carrying out the steps in the personalised housing plan.
The LHA may wish to work with partner agencies at this point to place the vulnerable applicant in suitable accommodation, which might be supported or in a care home if the applicant is elderly.
Housing authorities should not have a blanket policy of ending the prevention and relief duties after 56 days where they have the discretion to continue it, instead they should in each case take the applicant’s circumstances into account.
Where an applicant does not have a priority need or they have a priority need and have become homeless intentionally, the authority may want to consider continuing the relief duty for longer.
Considerations may include the needs of the applicant, the risk of the applicant sleeping rough, the prospects of securing accommodation within a reasonable period, the resources available to the LHA, and any wider implications of bringing the duty to an end (for example, in the case of an applicant who has dependent children and who became homeless intentionally where ChA 1989 duties may apply if accommodation could not be secured).
Vulnerable people and possession proceedings
Where an applicant is an assured shorthold tenant who has received a valid section 21 notice, it is unlikely to be reasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy beyond the expiry of that section 21 notice, where:
• the LHA is satisfied that the landlord intends to seek possession
• further efforts from the LHA to resolve the situation and persuade the landlord to allow the tenant to remain in the property are unlikely to be successful; and
• there would be no defence to an application for a possession order
unless the LHA is taking steps to persuade the landlord to allow the tenant to continue to occupy the accommodation for a reasonable period to provide an opportunity for alternative accommodation to be found.
LHAs are under an obligation to ensure that homeless families and vulnerable individuals who are owed a section HA 1996, s 188 interim accommodation duty or HA 1996, s 193(2) main housing duty are not evicted through the enforcement of an order for possession as a result of a failure by the authority to make suitable accommodation available to them.
Some vulnerable groups will be owed dual duties.
In the case of 16- and 17-year-olds, the social services authority will have a duty to refer the young person to the LHA if they meet the criteria under HA 1996, s 213B. However, they may also have a duty to provide accommodation for that young person. In most cases a 16–17-year-old who has become homeless will be accommodated under ChA 1989, s 20 and/or through provision of supported housing or supported lodgings, and will not be ready to manage their own tenancy until they reach adulthood.
In the case of vulnerable adults, a duty to refer under HA 1996, s 213B may arise, concurrently with a duty to accommodate under CA 2014.
Housing authorities will wish to agree arrangements with relevant authorities to ensure that when they receive referrals from these authorities appropriate alternative joint working approaches are in place and the primary responsibility to provide accommodation which would prevent or address homelessness lies with the other service.
Referring authorities may assist an applicant to make a direct application with the LHA rather than going through the referral process. This may apply for people with particular support needs.
Interim accommodation and vulnerable groups
The Secretary of State considers that applicants whose household has a need for social services support or a need to maintain links with other essential services within the borough, for example families with children who are subject to safeguarding arrangements, should be given particular attention when temporary accommodation is allocated to try and ensure it is located in or close to the housing authority’s own district. Careful consideration should be given to applicants with a mental illness or learning disability who may have a particular need to remain in a specific area, for example to maintain links with health service professionals and/or a reliance on existing informal support networks and community links. Such applicants may be less able than others to adapt to any disruption caused by being placed in accommodation in another district.
Housing authorities are obliged to review the supply and demand need for supported accommodation available for particular cohorts of people in need of accommodation with support.
Housing authorities will need to work with partners to assess the need, and plan strategically, for supported housing provision to help prevent and resolve homelessness for people with support needs, and to consider whether existing local needs are met or to commission provision (either new units or additional support) to address these needs.
Supported housing should be of good quality and suitable for the needs of the client group it is intended for. For example, supported accommodation with shared facilities will not normally be suitable for longer-term placements for families with pregnant women and/or children.
Refuge provision is very important for victims of domestic abuse at high risk who need to flee from highly dangerous perpetrators, and victims will very often need to be placed in a refuge in another area in order to be safe from the perpetrator. Housing authorities will need to work together to assess and meet the need for refuge provision across local authority boundaries, for example, across a region or sub-region, to help ensure provision for people fleeing both from and to individual LHA areas.
Hostel and supported accommodation
Hostels and support accommodation may be provided by:
• a local authority
• a private registered provider
• private landlords
Vulnerable young people, and families with children should not be accommodated alongside vulnerable adults.
Short stay hostel accommodation and supported schemes is only appropriate where there is a planned pathway to ensure that accommodation will continue to be available to them for at least six
The 2018 Code suggests Housing First as an approach to ending long term homelessness for people with complex needs.
Housing First support is generally commissioned by a local authority. In some cases funding has also come from Public Health, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Police and Crime Commissioners. A few Housing First services do not receive statutory funding and are instead funded by trusts and foundations.
The Housing First model was first developed in New York in 1992 by the ‘Pathways to Housing’ organisation, as a response to the problems they saw facing mentally ill patients who had no alternative housing options other than to access homeless shelters or live on the street. It has two main elements;
• stable, quality housing
• support for the occupier
Housing First England is a new project to create and support a national movement of Housing First services, improving the lives of, and support for, some of society’s most excluded people.
The Housing First website can be found here.
The principles of Housing First are as follows:
• that people have a right to a home, prioritising access to housing as a priority with eligibility for housing only contingent on the person’s willingness to maintain their tenancy
• housing and support are separated. A person’s housing is not contingent on engaging with support
• individuals have choice and control. The person and their wishes are at the centre of the support they experience
• service is based on people’s strengths, goals and aspirations. Services are underpinned by philosophy that there is always a possibility for positive change, improved health and wellbeing, relationships and community integration
• an active engagement approach is used. The support is tailored to fit the individual
• a harm reduction approach is used. There is a holistic support approach
Housing Support has published guidance as follows:
• Guidance for Support Providers
• Guidance for Social Landlords
• Guidance for Commissioners
Housing First can be utilised in three ways:
• to commission support only within the LHA’s general needs accommodation
• to place an applicant in the LHA’s own supported accommodation using Housing First funding
• to provide support only to assist in the prevention of homelessness
Disabled facilities grant
Uptake of the disabled facilities grant can enable homeowners to remain living an independent life at home. A disabled facilities grant can contribute towards the cost of providing adaptations and facilities to enable the disabled person to continue to live there.
Authorities are required to give a decision within six months of receiving an application. The grant is subject to a maximum limit of £30,000 and is means tested to ensure that funding goes to those most in need.
The government has published a guidance booklet to explain the help available and how to go about applying for a grant, found at Communities and Local Government: Disabled facilities grant.
Suitability of accommodation and CA 2014
CA 2014 provides that local authorities are under an obligation to promote wellbeing when carrying out their functions.
The Care and support statutory guidance to CA 2014 provides the following:
‘15.57 Local authorities have a general duty to promote an individual’s wellbeing when carrying out their care and support functions. The Act is clear that one specific component of wellbeing is the suitability of living accommodation. A local authority should consider suitable living accommodation in looking at a person’s needs and desired outcomes.
15.58 Housing has a vital role to play in other areas relating to a person’s wellbeing. For example access to a safe settled home underpins personal dignity. A safe suitable home can contribute to physical and mental wellbeing and can provide control over day to day life and protection from abuse and neglect. A home or suitable living accommodation can enable participation in work or education, social interactions and family relationships.
15.59 In relation to housing, a local authority can make an important contribution to an individual’s wellbeing, for example by providing and signposting information that allows people to address care and support needs through specific housing related support services, or through joint planning and commissioning that enables local authorities to provide (or arrange for the provision of) housing and care services or housing adaptations to meet the needs of the local population.’
These principles may be relevant to vulnerable groups in the accommodation placements offered to them by the LHA. It is envisaged with the HRA 2017 that joint working will be such that difficulties will be identified early on. Indeed, it is difficult to envisage housing authorities being able to allocate suitable accommodation without such joint working.
This article is available within LexisPSL Public Law. To access further housing content, why not take out a free trial?