I Was Found ‘Intentionally Homeless’ By A Local Council. What Does It Mean And What Can I Do?
Every year hundreds of thousands of applications are made to local authorities across the country for housing assistance. In recent years, the number of destitute individuals who face homelessness has increased drastically as a result of the continuing housing crisis and the cost of living crisis.
Yet, sometimes public authorities reject homelessness applications and refuse housing support to otherwise eligible applicants on the basis that they are ‘intentionally homeless’. In this post, we explain what this confusing legal term means in practice for applicants based in England (separate rules apply to other parts of the UK) and when you may wish to seek to challenge such a decision.
The main housing duty and ‘intentionally homeless’
Firstly, it must be understood that local councils do not have to automatically assist everyone who approaches them as homeless. Rather, their obligations come from the Housing Act 1996 and they will only have a main duty to house you if you satisfy the following (as per section 193(2)):
- You must be eligible for assistance
- You must be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days
- You must be in priority need
- You must not have become homeless intentionally
Because of these strict rules, local councils are obliged to make enquiries as to the circumstances of your homelessness. As shown, there may be numerous reasons for which you are denied the main housing duty, such as you may not be eligible for assistance due to your immigration status or nationality, or you may not be in priority need. These criteria are complex and will not be discussed here. Instead, let’s focus only on the concept of intentional homelessness.
The Housing Act 1996 Act explains this term in section 191, as follows:
“(1)A person becomes homeless intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy.
(2)For the purposes of subsection (1) an act or omission in good faith on the part of a person who was unaware of any relevant fact shall not be treated as deliberate.”
We will now consider individual parts of the definition and provide some real-life examples to illustrate how it applies in practice.
As per the Homelessness Code of Guidance, your homelessness would be treated as intentional if an act or omission that led to the loss of accommodation was deliberate. Let’s consider a typical example of an act that, sadly, too often leads to loss of home: you fall into rent arrears caused by delayed payments of social benefits. In such cases, your local council should investigate the circumstances very carefully. Why were your benefits withheld? Was it through an administrative error, a bureaucratic delay or have you failed to engage with the case workers for no good reason and had your payments cut as a result? What help was available to you and what steps have you taken to seek support? You should always keep written evidence of your engagement with all services to prove that you’ve acted appropriately.
Your actions or failures to act would not be ‘deliberate’ if you were vulnerable and incapable of managing your finances. Were you vulnerable due to, for example, to your age, disability, mental health illness, serious substance abuse problems or other reasons? Can you present medical or other evidence to the council?
Further, your actions should not be classified as ‘deliberate’ if you acted under duress, for instance, if you are a survivor of domestic violence and were experiencing economic control and coercion from an abusive partner. If you have been supported by a domestic abuse worker or advocate, they can issue a letter confirming that. You may also have other records of domestic abuse such as police records, correspondence with a social worker or even examples of abuse directly from that partner. Make sure that all relevant evidence is presented to the council.
On the other hand, if you have persistently engaged in anti-social or violent behaviour, ignored advice from qualified people or simply neglected your financial matters for no good reason, you actions are likely to be found ‘deliberate’ and lead to a finding of ‘intentional homelessness’ against you.
The second factor for a local council to investigate is whether your current homelessness was caused by your deliberate act or omission. Was it reasonably likely at the time that your deliberate actions or failures to act would lead to your homelessness? Or, would you have become homeless in any event because of actions or failures to act of another person or body, regardless of your actions? If the second scenario applies to your case, the causal link may be broken and you may not be ‘intentionally homeless’.
If you have been homeless more than on one occasion, local councils should look at your actions or failures that led to your current homelessness, and not any past homelessness. They should also disregard any temporary accommodation with no real prospects of continuation, such as if you are staying with family or friends, at holiday lets or overcrowded and unaffordable property.
Rules regarding causation tend to be complex so if you think that causation may be an issue in your circumstances, you should seek legal advice.
Reasonable to occupy and affordable
According to the law, local council should assess if it would have been reasonable for you to have continued to occupy the accommodation. This may not be the case if the property was highly unsuitable for your needs, overcrowded or unsafe. During that assessment, they should also look at access to employment or education (in case of children) for you and any other members of your household.
Secondly, councils are specifically required to investigate if the last accommodation was affordable. Here, wider financial factors are considered, such as all sources of income available to you and any payments you are required to make.
Under the current case law, accommodation is not reasonable for you to continue to occupy if the cost of paying for it would deprive you of money necessary to provide for ‘the ordinary necessities of life’ (R v Wandsworth London Borough Council ex p Hawthorne  1 WLR 1442, CA). These ‘necessities’ are assessed on an individual basis taking into consideration your unique circumstances but tend to include food, utilities, transport, clothing and other essentials. You may also have additional vital expenses such as medications, care costs or payments relating to your employment that you should bring to the council’s attention.
Lastly, if your expenses have recently increased drastically because of the costs of living crisis, it is important that you highlight that change too. It is always a good idea to illustrate your expenses with examples of receipts or bills.
What can I do?
Being found ‘intentionally homeless’ is a stressful and stigmatising experience, especially if you feel that you have become homeless through no fault of your own.