Local Authorities escape hefty resource drain as Court of Appeal rules on homelessness

Ref. Temur v London Borough of Hackney [2014] EWCA Civ 877

The Court of Appeal have provided an important ruling in the case referenced above, in which the appellant applied for protection under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 as homeless and was initially ruled as such, but not a priority need. An appeal was then made to Hackney Council regarding the latter part of that judgement, with the appellant seeking to be classified as a priority. 

During that review period, the appellant secured a shorthold tenancy of a small property – thereby becoming technically not homeless. Thus, Hackney, instead of amending their previous ruling, simply ruled that she was no longer homeless and entitled to assistance. 

The appellant appealed this decision in the County Court and was unsuccessful, so took her case to the Court of Appeal where her representatives argued on several grounds:

 –          The reviewing officer did not have power to substitute an adverse decision on different grounds, namely that the appellant was not homeless, instead of a decision that the appellant was not in priority need.

–          The reviewing officer failed to consider whether the property taken under the shorthold tenancy (Room 4) was a health and safety hazard when assessed in accordance with Part I of the Housing Act 2004.

–          The reviewing officer failed to look to the future when considering whether it was reasonable for the appellant and her daughter to continue to occupy Room 4 for the purposes of section 175 (3) of the 1996 Act.

Lord Justice Jackson specified that there is nothing in sections 202 or 203 of the 1996 Act which provides that the new decision must be more favourable to the applicant and cannot be less favourable. Further:

“In my view the review officer was entitled to substitute a less favourable decision than the original decision, because the circumstances had changed. 

“He was not required to carry out a hazard assessment under the Housing Act 2004. He properly had regard to the future when carrying out his assessment, as required by section 175 (3) of the 1996 Act and the House of Lords’ decision in Birmingham City Council v Ali [2009] UKHL 36; [2009] 1 WLR 1506. Accordingly, I would dismiss this appeal.” 

Lord Justice Lewison supported this by emphasising that social housing is an extremely valuable resource. He added: 

“If, after the original decision, but before the review, the applicant ceases to be homeless, it would be extraordinary if the authority still had a duty which, in terms, is confined to those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness.” 

The ruling is fortunate for councils around the country who, in the event of a different decision in favour of the appellant, could have been looking at a serious drain on their social housing resources; with many more “homeless” being due statutory protection.

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SRJ / LCB                                                                                                                              03.07.14

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