Last Update: April 2006

This section includes a list of common questions related to the subject of drugs and housing. It provides brief answers to these questions, and links to other sources of more detailed information. If you have questions that are not covered in this section you can write directly to us or alternatively address questions to other workers via the forum. Use the Contact buttons or the Forum buttons above to get in touch for further help.

Quick Finder

What are my main obligations under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Key obligations for housing providers are covered by Section 8 of the MDA 1971 which obliges you to act to prevent the production of all controlled drugs, supply, attempts to supply and offers to supply controlled drugs, the preparation of opium for smoking and smoking cannabis and repared opium.

Should you become aware of any of the above activities taking place, you have a legal obligation to take action to stop the activity. Failure to act exposes the organisation to risk of prosecution.

You do not have specific legal obligations to prevent the possession of controlled drugs or the use of drugs other than cannabis (and opium). However, it would be unlawful for an organisation to encourage or incite others to commit an offence under the MDA.

Staff are prohibited from undertaking certain activities such as the storage of some controlled drugs and the distribution of certain items of paraphernalia.

I know people inject on site: am I breaking the law?

No, you are not. While you would commit an offence of knowingly allowing cannabis smoking on site (Section 8(d) of the MDA 1971) this section does not apply to the use of other drugs. So while the person injecting heroin is breaking the law by possessing a controlled drug, the person who manages the building is not breaking the law by allowing them to do so.

It will never be good practice to encourage or incite injecting or use. So whenever you become aware of use on site you will need to take some action. But this could include harm-reduction interventions such as needle exchange and safer injecting advice, rather than punitive measures such as exclusion.

Is the Government planning to change the law relating to premises?

The Government proposed changing Section 8(d) to cover all controlled drugs unlawfully held. This change was introduced by the S38 of the Police and Criminal Justice Act (2001) but the change was never brought in to force.

Following consultation with the field, the Government suspended these changes, and instead introduced new powers under the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 to close houses where Class A drugs were being used, produced or supplied, and which were causing nuisance.

Following successful implementation of the new powers, the Government repealed the S38 of the Police and Criminal Justice Act.

The net result is that Section 8(d) remained unchanged, obliging managers and occupiers to prevent cannabis smoking but not the use of other controlled drugs.

There are no immediate plans to further change Section 8 or other key pieces of legislation at this time.

Can I allow cannabis smoking on site?

The law [MDA S8(d)] makes it an offence to allow cannabis smoking on site. An organisation that knowingly allowed cannabis smoking would be committing an offence and would expose itself to risk of prosecution.

In order to help manage this situation KFx developed a Cannabis Protocol which can be used to create an agreement between organisations and the police to work with cannabis users more flexibly. This document is located in the Resource section.

Can I store prescribed controlled drugs on behalf of residents?

Our understanding is that the storage of prescribed controlled drugs by workers in generic settings such as hostels and day centres is not strictly lawful and may expose workers to risk of prosecution. There are also important duty of care issues. We do not think that most workers in housing settings enjoy the authority to possess and supply controlled drugs detailed in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, as updated. As such , organisations would be advised to find other solutions to avoid the need to store prescribed controlled drugs until such time as the legislation is revised.

Is it lawful for us to place sharps boxes in our hostel?

Yes. There is a widespread misaprehension that placing sharps boxes in hostels is unlawful, or exposes organisations to risk of prosecution. Neither of these fears is true.

There is no legal impediment to placing sharps boxes. They are not a controlled item of paraphernalia and their possession and placing is wholly lawful.

The placing of sharps boxes is a practical way of addressing a health and safety concern. If an organisation can reasonably foresee that contaminated sharps could be brought in to the building, then they are obliged to consider how this risk can be managed. In this context, sharps could include disposable razors and needles.

Methods for addressing this hazard include providing opportunities for safe disposal, staff training, and awareness raising with service users. Failure to take appropriate steps to address such a risk could leave organisations exposed to litigation in the event of needle-stick or similar incidents.

Some police forces have cautioned against placing sharps boxes, arguing that this is tantamount to "condoning use on site." Agencies should be reassured on the following grounds: this caution is erroneous on several fronts:

a) the presence of sharps boxes provides a safe point of disposal; it does not automatically mean that use on site is taking place, either with or without staff knowledge;

b) even if staff are aware that injecting is taking place on site, this would not mean the staff were commiting an offence. As the legislation currently stands, the person using the drug would be commiting an offence but the agency would not.

c) while an agency cannot be prosecuted for having sharps boxes on site, there is scope for them to be sued should the absence of sharps bins result in harm to staff, residents or other parties.

Any sharps boxes utilised in hostels should be "fit for purpose." This will mean that they are of an appropriate design, properly situated, and protocols are in place to have them emptied, replaced and transported appropriately.

Can residents lawfully keep injecting equipment in their rooms?

Yes. The possession of injecting equipment such as needles, syringes and other paraphernalia is lawful. Organisations who may be working with injectors do not commit an offence by allowing people to possess such equipment on site, even if they know or suspect controlled drugs are being injected on site.

Organisations would need to ensure that the presence of such equipment does not represent a hazard. Uncapped equipment and contaminated sharps represent an unacceptable hazard and so would need to be addressed under Health and Safety policy. But clean equipment, and equipment safely disposed of in a Sharps Box would not usually present a health and safety risk.

Organisations that intend to work with injectors should develop policy and practice which encourages people to adopt safer practice around injecting such as maintaining suffficient amounts of clean equipment, and safe disposal.

Drugs and Housing is a KFx project. Click on the logo to the right to access the main KFx website. Materials on this website are (c) KFx unless otherwise credited.