Council accommodation need not be 'settled'

LAW REPORT v 25 July 1995
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Regina v Brent London Borough Council, Ex parte Awua; House of Lords (Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, Lord Slynn of Hadley, Lord Taylor of Gosforth and Lord Hoffmann) 6 July 1995

An unintentionally homeless person in priority need who is provided short-term accommodation which is reasonable for the person to occupy becomes intentionally homeless if he leaves that accommodation since there was nothing in the Housing Act 1985 which requires that the accommodation which the person leaves has to be "settled" and not temporary before he can become intentionally homeless.

The House of Lords unanimously dismissed an appeal by the applicant, Victoria Awua, from the Court of Appeal's decision (Independent, 31 March 1994) to set aside Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC's order quashing the council's decision that the applicant was intentionally homeless.

The applicant and her children were accepted by Tower Hamlets Borough Council as unintentionally homeless and with a priority need. It accepted a duty under section 65(2) of the Housing Act 1985 to secure that accommodation became available for her occupation. She was first housed in short-life accommodation until more permanent accommodation could be offered. Tower Hamlets then offered her a flat which it considered suitable and which discharged its duty to her. She refused the offer and was evicted from the short-life accommodation.

She applied to Brent for accommodation. Brent decided she was intentionally homeless within section 60(1) because her eviction had resulted from her decision to refuse the offer from Tower Hamlets. On her application for judicial review of Brent's decision, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, sitting as a deputy Queen's Bench Division judge, decided that she could not be intentionally homeless from leaving the short-life accommodation because it was not "settled" accommodation. The Court of Appeal allowed the council's appeal.

Roger Henderson QC and Terence Gallivan (T.V. Edwards & Co) for the applicant; Ashley Underwood and Lisa Giovannetti (Council Solicitor) for Brent.

Lord Hoffmann said that there was no reference to "settled" in section 60(1). It referred simply to "accommodation". It followed from the definition of accommodation in section 58(2B) that a local authority was entitled to regard a person as having accommodation and therefore as not being homeless if he had accommodation it could consider that it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy. There was nothing in the Act to say that a local authority could not take the view that a person could reasonably be expected to continue to occupy accommodation which was temporary. It was hard to imagine circumstances in which a person who was not threatened with homelessness could not reasonably be expected to continue to occupy his accommodation simply because it was temporary. The submission that "accommodation" in sections 58 and 60 must be construed as a settled home was rejected.

The distinction between a settled residence and temporary accommodation was used to identify what would break the causal link between departure from accommodation which it would have been reasonable to continue to occupy and homelessness separated from that departure by period or periods of accommodation elsewhere.

Accommodation in sections 58(1) and 60(1) meant a place which could fairly be described as accommodation and which it would be reasonable, having regard to the general housing conditions in the district, for the person to continue to occupy. There was no requirement that it should be settled or permanent. The same was true of accommodation made available under section 65(2).

Therefore the duty of the council to an unintentionally homeless person in priority need under section 65(2) was to secure that accommodation became available for his occupation. The accommodation must be suitable but that did not import any requirement of permanence. There was no reason why temporary accommodation should ipso facto be unsuitable.

If the tenure was so precarious that the person was likely to have to leave within 28 days without alternative accommodation available, he remained threatened with homelessness and the council had not discharged its duty. Otherwise the term for which the accommodation was provided was a matter for the council to decide.

Brent was entitled to take the view that the applicant ceased to occupy the short-life accommodation in consequence of her having deliberately deciding to refuse the offer of the flat. The short-life accommodation was accommodation available for her occupation and which it was reasonable for her to continue to occupy until the flat was ready. Her appeal was dismissed.