The Court of Appeal has clarified the meaning of “significantly more vulnerable”, when used to assess whether a homeless applicant is “vulnerable” and therefore in priority need under Part VI of the Housing Act 1996.

Two men (Panayiotou and Smith) appealed against decisions that they were not in priority need of accommodation as “vulnerable” persons within the meaning of section 189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996. The reviewing officers had applied the test laid down in Hotak v Southwark LBC [2015] UKSC 30, in which “vulnerable” was determined to mean “significantly more vulnerable than ordinarily vulnerable” as a result of being homeless. The two men alleged that the decisions in their cases had applied too high a threshold when considering whether they were “significantly more vulnerable than ordinarily vulnerable”. Both of their appeals were dismissed by the County Court.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Panayiotou's appeal but upheld Mr Smith's, confirming that, in Hotak v Southwark, the judge did not intend to use “significantly” as a way to introduce a quantative threshold; instead, he was using it in a qualitative sense. Consequently, when considering whether an applicant is “vulnerable”, the question that should be asked is whether the applicant is “at risk of more harm in a significant way”. This would mean looking at an applicant's particular characteristics and the impact of these.

The Court of Appeal's ruling is likely to lead to further legal challenges in decisions where it appears that a quantative rather than a qualitative approach was adopted when assessing “vulnerability”.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Doka v London Borough of Southwark [2017] EWCA Civ 1532

Court of Appeal

17 October 2017

The Court of Appeal has held that a tenant (Mr Doka) - who was eligible for housing assistance, was homeless and in priority need - was intentionally homeless under the Housing Act 1996, despite his intentional homelessness occurring four years before his application for housing assistance.

In November 2010, Mr Doka had been evicted from the property he occupied under a secure tenancy on account of rent arrears. He was considered intentionally homeless for the purposes of section 191 of the Housing Act 1996. He then stayed at the home of his former employer, who had offered him a room for two to three years while his son was at university. Mr Doka paid rent for the room, but had to leave during the periods that the son returned home from university. When Mr Doka was asked to leave, in December 2012, he applied to the London Borough of Southwark for housing assistance.

The London Borough of Southwark held that, due to his intentional homelessness in 2010, Mr Doka was only owed limited housing duty under section 190 of the Housing Act 1996. He unsuccessfully appealed this decision in the County Court.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal held that Mr Doka’s occupation of a room in his former employer's house did not amount to “settled accommodation” despite the fact that it lasted for two years. There had therefore been no break in the chain of causation between his present state of homelessness and an eviction (amounting to intentional homelessness) which predated his occupation of the room. His appeal was dismissed.

A copy of the judgment is here.

R (on the application of Lindsay) v Watford Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council (interested party)

High Court

13 October 2017

The claimant (Ms Lindsay) claimed that she had been made homeless following the breakdown of a relationship. The defendant (Watford Borough Council) initially declined to provide accommodation because of its concern about Ms Lindsay’s ability to live independently (she suffered from depression and had frequent seizures), stating that responsibility for her social care fell on Hertfordshire County Council. However, it eventually provided temporary bed and breakfast accommodation due to its duty under section 188(1) of the Housing Act 1996, pending inquiries into the claimant's homelessness. The arrangement came to an end following an incident at the hotel, when Ms Lindsay allegedly assaulted a cleaner who had entered her room, and she was told to leave. Watford Borough Council believed that it had met its obligation under section 188(1) of the Housing Act 1996.

Ms Lindsay sought a court order to require Watford Borough Council to provide her with suitable accommodation pending her application for judicial review of the Council’s decision.

The High Court held that It was doubtful whether Watford Borough Council had considered whether its offer of accommodation had been suitable for Ms Lindsay, and therefore doubtful whether it was “accommodation” under section 188(1) of the Housing Act 1996. It held that the “balance of convenience” favoured the granting of interim relief, and accommodation should be provided pending the application for judicial review.

This was an extempore (oral) decision and a copy of the judgment is not yet available.

Vukasovic v Brent London Borough Council (County Court)

County Court (Central London)

6 October 2017

The appellant (Mrs Vukasovic) appealed against a decision by Brent London Borough Council that it had discharged its duty to secure accommodation for her.

Mrs Vukasovic, who had both physical and mental health difficulties, lived with her husband, their five-year-old son and her 78-year-old mother in private rented accommodation. When the family lost their home, she applied for homelessness assistance. Brent London Borough Council accepted that she was eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in priority need, but said that it would make only one offer of accommodation. According to the Council, there was a chronic shortage of affordable private rented accommodation both within its Borough and London and the south east generally. It consequently offered Mrs Vukasovic a two-bedroom flat in Wolverhampton. She refused the offer, citing her mental health care requirements, and applied for a review of decision, challenging the decision that the accommodation offered to her was suitable and that her refusal of the offer released the Council from its duty towards her. The reviewing officer upheld the Council’s decision, stating that the property was the nearest available and that medical services in Wolverhampton were likely to be similar to those to which she currently had access to in London. Mrs Vukasovic appealed the decision.

The County Court dismissed the appeal, ruling that the Council had not acted unlawfully in offering her accommodation in Wolverhampton.

A copy of the judgment is available on request.

Southwark London Borough Council v Ibidun

High Court

19 October 2017

Southwark London Borough Council appealed against a County Court judge's dismissal of its claim for possession against one of its tenants.

The tenant (Ms Ibidun) had occupied a property as a secure tenant. However, Southwark London Borough Council sought possession of the property on the basis that Ms Ibidun was living somewhere else. The Court acknowledged that Ms Ibidun had been untruthful at times, had demonstrated that she was prepared to lie if it assisted her case, and had allowed another individual to live at the property in return for payment. However, it concluded that she still occupied the property as a whole and it was her principal home. The claim for possession was therefore dismissed.

The Council appealed.

The High Court, in dismissing the appeal, held that the County Court judge had been entitled to dismiss the original claim for possession, and said that the Council’s argument that the judge had misdirected himself in law, as there was sufficient evidence to establish that the tenant had ceased to occupy the property as her principal home, was nothing more than a disagreement with the judge's findings of fact.

This was an extempore (oral) decision and a copy of the judgment is not yet available.

Burrows Investments Ltd v Ward Homes Ltd [2017] EWCA Civ 1577

Court of Appeal

20 October 2017

A property investment company (Burrows Investments), which had sold land to a development company (Ward Homes), appealed against a High Court decision that Ward Home's sale at cost price of five residential units to a social landlord as affordable housing amounted to a “permitted disposal” within the meaning of the sale agreement.

The sale agreement provided that Ward Homes could not make disposals, except for permitted disposals, without procuring that the transferee entered into a deed of covenant with Burrows Investments in respect of overage. Permitted disposals, laid out in paragraph (c) of the agreement, included a “transfer/dedication/lease of land for the site of an electricity sub-station, gas governor kiosk, sewage pumping station and the like, or for roads, footpaths, public open space, or other social/community purposes”. The original planning permission contained no provision for social housing, but the revised planning permission for the development was subject to a section 106 agreement, requiring Ward Homes to provide five units of affordable housing to one of several registered social housing providers. Before any agreement over the disposal could be reached, Ward Homes sold the five units to a social housing provider and claimed that the disposal did not contravene their sale agreement.

The High Court held that the provision of affordable housing achieved an important social purpose of substantial benefit to the community and was therefore within paragraph (c). Burrows Investments appealed.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, ruling that the transfer of the five residential units was not a permitted disposal within the meaning of the agreement. It held that the parties could have expressly provided for affordable housing to be included as a “permitted disposal”, but no such provision was included in the agreement. Consequently, Ward Homes had breached the agreement.

A copy of the judgment is here.