R (Bell) v London Borough of Lambeth [2022] EWHC 2008 (Admin)

High Court, 27 July 2022

The High Court has made a mandatory order requiring a local authority to secure suitable accommodation for a homeless applicant.

Ms Bell was a single parent with three children. She and two of her children had mental and physical disabilities that required ground floor accommodation. She applied to London Borough of Lambeth for homelessness assistance and the local authority accepted that it owed her the section 193(2) duty under the Housing Act 1996 to provide suitable accommodation. London Borough of Lambeth provided Ms Bell with temporary accommodation but it only had one bedroom on the ground floor. Subsequent medical evidence confirmed that the property's unsatisfactory condition was impacting on the children's health and London Borough of Lambeth accepted that the accommodation was unsuitable. However, whilst further offers of accommodation were made, none were deemed suitable. Ms Bell applied for a mandatory order to enforce the section 193(2) duty. However, London Borough of Lambeth contended that this was unnecessary as it was doing its best to secure suitable accommodation.

The High Court granted the mandatory order, as the accommodation provided and offered did not meet the minimum level of suitability and was damaging the family’s health. It held that London Borough of Lambeth had not taken all reasonable steps to secure suitable accommodation and the breach of the section193(2) duty had been ongoing for more than 20 months.

The ruling is a warning to local housing authorities that they must ensure that when dealing with families with disabled children they consider the public sector equality duty and section 11 of the Children Act 1989, which requires a housing authority to consider the welfare of children. A local authority’s lack of suitable properties and financial constraints may not necessarily persuade a court that the local authority had taken all reasonable steps to secure accommodation, particularly, as in this case, there was a long period of non-compliance with the section 193(2) duty.

A copy of the judgment is here.

R (ZK) v London Borough of Havering [2022] EWHC 1854 (Admin)

High Court, 18 July 2022

The High Court has found that a local housing authority had acted unlawfully by failing to adequately assess the housing needs of a homeless refugee and his family.

The claimant (“ZK”) was a refugee who had come to the UK with his wife and three young children. London Borough of Havering accepted that he was eligible for housing assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. However, ZK, who had been tortured and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, complained that the accommodation provided was unsuitable due to the long flight of stairs up to the property and the distance from his children's school. He claimed that, given his health issues, he needed long-term accommodation that was reasonably quiet and had four bedrooms. Medical evidence had shown that it was crucial for his recovery that he be provided with settled accommodation. ZK applied for judicial review, alleging that London Borough of Havering had failed in its duty under section 189A of the Housing Act 1996 to carry out a lawful housing needs assessment and had failed to provide lawful personalised housing plans so that he could secure and retain suitable accommodation.

The High Court, in allowing the claim, held that London Borough of Havering had acted unlawfully as it had not satisfactorily set out ZK’s housing needs under s.189A of the Housing Act 1996 and had not taken into account the medical evidence. The requirement for settled accommodation to assist ZK’s recovery was deemed a housing wish, rather than a housing need. It found that London Borough of Havering had failed to keep under review the steps to be taken to secure and retain suitable accommodation under a personalised housing plan.

The ruling highlights the importance for local housing authorities to make a distinction between an applicant's housing needs and housing wishes in a housing file.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Abdikadir v London Borough of Ealing [2022] EWCA Civ 979

Court of Appeal, 15 July 2022

The Court of Appeal has held that a local housing authority failed to comply with its own acquisitions policy when making an out of area offer and had therefore wrongly decided that its housing duty towards an applicant had ended when she refused the offer.

Ms Abdikadir applied to London Borough of Ealing for assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. London Borough of Ealing accepted that it owed her the section 193(2) duty under the Housing Act 1996 and offered her a social housing property in a neighbouring London borough. However, Ms Abdikadir rejected the offer and, consequently, London Borough of Ealing decided that its duty had been discharged. The decision was upheld on review, as the accommodation was deemed to be suitable and was the only four-bedroom property available at the date of the offer. Ms Abdikadir unsuccessfully appealed the decision at the County Court and subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal, in allowing the appeal, held that London Borough of Ealing had failed to comply with its own acquisitions policy, which required it to check relevant websites on a daily basis for new housing supply, and to consider the acquisition of private sector rental property, or the making of private rented sector offers. There was no evidence that this had been done, meaning the acquisitions policy had been breached. Although it could not be proven that complying with the policy would have led to a different outcome, London Borough of Ealing was unable to demonstrate that it had followed its policy, which was unlawful.

The ruling highlights how important it is for local housing authorities to ensure that they properly evidence their compliance with their own housing policies.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Northumberland Mews Ltd v Thanet District Council [2022] UKUT 179 (LC)

Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber), 14 July 2022

The Upper Tribunal has confirmed that the scheme of licensing under Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004 is intended to be flexible.

Northumberland Mews Ltd owned a building that contained 22 flats. It was subject to a selective licensing regime but had failed to apply for a licence. After making enquiries and trying to inspect all of the flats in the building, the local authority (“Thanet District Council”) imposed five separate financial penalties of £10,000 on Northumberland Mews Ltd. These penalties related to the five flats that Thanet District Council had been able to access (and where it believed that the flat was occupied under a non-exempt tenancy and should be licenced). Northumberland Mews Ltd appealed to the First-tier Tribunal, arguing that it was unlawful to impose five separate penalties totalling £50,000 and that only one penalty covering the entire building should have been imposed (as it had committed only one offence under Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004). The maximum penalty for such an offence is £30,000. The First-tier Tribunal rejected that argument and upheld the five penalty notices. Northumberland Mews Ltd appealed.

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber), in dismissing the appeal, held that Northumberland Mews Ltd could be subject to separate fixed penalty notices, as each flat was a dwelling and local authorities have flexibility in how they carry out their licensing functions. The Housing Act 2004 does not prescribe whether a block of flats owned by a single freeholder must be subject to one licence or several. Consequently, there is no single correct answer to the question of “what is the Part 3 house” where there are two or more dwellings within a building, or only a single possible offence that a landlord of such a building can be charged with. Whilst Thanet District Council could have decided that the whole building was a single Part 3 property, it was not required to do so.

This ruling will be welcomed by local housing authorities, as it confirms that there is flexibility under the selective licensing regime in relation to the licensing of flats in a block. It is permissible to grant a ‘block’ licence and to also grant licences for individual flats.

A copy of the judgment is here.

London Borough of Croydon (21 004 836)

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, 23 May 2022

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has upheld a complaint against a local housing authority for failing to review the suitability of overcrowded, temporary accommodation for a family of five.

Miss X applied to London Borough of Croydon (“C”) for homelessness assistance when she was single and without children. C accepted that it owed X the main housing duty under section 193 of the Housing Act 1996 and in 2014 placed her in a single-room studio flat as temporary accommodation. By January 2021, Miss X had four children and complained to C that the flat was now too small. C, however, concluded that C was in the correct banding under its choice-based letting scheme (band 3) because she was homeless but did not meet the requirements of the higher bands. However, C said that she should now bid on permanent three-bedroom accommodation.

Following Miss X’s complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LG&SCO), the LG&SCO said that although it was satisfied that C had correctly applied its choice-based lettings scheme, which allows housing applicants to bid for available properties that it advertises, and allocations policy, there was no evidence that it had reviewed the studio flat's suitability for the family. The LG&SCO found that C was at fault because it had failed to (1) properly review the suitability of the temporary accommodation it provided for Miss X after she told it her circumstances had changed; (2) consider referring Miss X to its Children’s Services team for support; and (3) consider whether the overcrowding in Miss X’s property was an environmental health risk to Miss X or her children. Consequently, the LG&SCO decided that Miss X and her children have been living in unsuitable, overcrowded temporary accommodation, which had caused them significant mental stress and impacted their wellbeing. If C had properly reviewed the suitability of Miss X's accommodation, it would have considered that it was unsuitable.

Following the decision, C agreed to (1) pay Miss X compensation; arrange suitable alternative temporary accommodation for the family; (2) refer Miss X to its Children’s Services team to establish what additional support it could provide for her and her children; (3) review its policy for referrals between its housing, children’s services and environmental health teams; and (4) review its procedures for keeping the suitability of temporary accommodation under review to ensure it properly reviews suitability where there are relevant changes of circumstances.

The decision highlights the importance of local housing authorities ensuring that they are fully aware of their duties and responsibilities regarding reviewing the suitability of a complainant’s temporary accommodation.

A copy of the report is here.