Thursday Law Report: Council's accommodation policy was unlawful

2 December 1999 Regina v Newham London Borough Council, ex parte Sacupima and others Queen's Bench Division, Crown Office List (Dyson J) 26 November 1999
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The Independent Culture
THE COUNCIL'S decision to discharge its duty to the applicants to provide suitable temporary accommodation under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 by securing bed-and-breakfast accommodation at seaside resorts was flawed, because it failed to consider the effect of location in particular on matters such as children's education, or employment of an applicant or members of his family.

The applicants' applications for judicial review of decisions of the respondent council to secure seaside bed-and-breakfast accommodation for them were allowed.

The applicants were all homeless persons who had, until becoming homeless, been resident in the London Borough of Newham. In discharging its duty to the applicants under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996 to provide them with suitable temporary accommodation, pending a decision whether it owed them a duty to provide suitable longer-term accommodation under section 193 of the Act, the council informed the applicants that bed-and- breakfast accommodation had been secured for them at seaside resorts such as Great Yarmouth, Brighton and Southend.

All of the applicants were in receipt of income support, and were unable to afford the cost of travelling to Newham to continue with schooling, employment or medical care of themselves or members of their families.

Each applicant sought judicial review of the council's decision to secure bed-and-breakfast accommodation at the seaside, on the ground that the conclusion that such accommodation was suitable was taken without regard to all relevant considerations and/or was Wednesbury unreasonable, and was therefore unlawful.

It was submitted for the council that it was its policy to turn to bed- and-breakfast accommodation to discharge its duty under section 188 only as a last resort, when no other form of temporary accommodation was available. The council belonged to the Bed and Breakfast Information Exchange (Babie). The council could not pay more than the agreed Babie rate without breaking the agreement, and also because it could not afford to pay more.

When there were no hotel rooms of the appropriate standard available at the Babie rate in Newham, or in other parts of London, the council had to look outside London, and such accommodation was often available at seaside resorts. The council only considered that temporary bed-and- breakfast accommodation out of the borough or out of London was unsuitable if there was a "serious reason" for doing so. Serious reasons in that context existed where there was a "serious risk to the life or health of the applicant, his family or another", and did not include educational or employment reasons.

Jan Luba (Hereward & Foster) and Stephen Knafler (the Aina Khan Partnership) for the applicants; David Matthias and Steven Woolf (Solicitor to Newham Council) for the council.

Mr Justice Dyson said that the phrase "suitable accommodation" in the Act meant suitable for the applicant, not suitable for the authority, and there was nothing in the Act which indicated that the authority's duty under section 188 should in any way be qualified by reference to its resources.

Although financial constraints and limited housing stock were matters that could be taken into account in determining suitability, there was a minimum in terms of the needs and circumstances of the particular family below which the standard of accommodation could not fall.

The policy applied by the council in the present cases prevented it from giving a proper consideration to the question whether, on the grounds of its location, bed-and-breakfast accommodation outside the district fell below the line of what could be regarded as suitable accommodation. It could not be right, and was unreasonable in the Wednesbury sense, not even to consider the effect of location in particular on matters such as children's education, or employment of the applicant or members of his family.

The decisions taken in the instant cases were, accordingly flawed, and would be quashed.

Kate O'Hanlon,