Court of Appeal overturns decision on Local Authority private rented accommodation offers
Social justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen has successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal to overturn a previous County Court decision relating to the steps a Local Authority are required to take when assessing whether an offer of private rented accommodation is suitable. The judges were unanimous and this case will now be the leading judgement when it comes to the suitability of accommodation in the private sector for vulnerable homeless applications.
The appeal was a joint appeal between Ibrahim Hajjaj v City of Westminster and Morium Akhter v London Borough of Waltham Forest. Mr Hajjaj’s appeal was brought by Solicitor Alexander Panayi, alongside Iain Colville of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, on the basis that the County Court had erred in law by finding that the Local Authority could make assumptions that the criteria of Article 3 of The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 were satisfied unless there were circumstances that reversed that presumption.
Mr Hajjaj had been made an offer of private rented section accommodation by the City of Westminster through their Part 7 Housing Act 1996 duty towards him. The property offered was outside of the Local Authority’s borough. Mr Hajjaj deemed the property offered to be unsuitable and declined the offer. Further to this, the Local Authority discharged their Part 7 duty towards Mr Hajjaj.
Pursuant to Section 202 Housing Act 1996, Mr Hajjaj requested a review of the suitability of the property offered. Representations were made to the Local Authority on his behalf, however in a decision dated 23 September 2020 the Local Authority upheld their decision. In reaching their decision they made assumptions that criteria in Article 3 has been satisfied, despite there being no information as to the physical conditions of the property, information on fire safety precautions or an energy performance certificate before the review officer.
Further to this, an appeal pursuant to Section 204 Housing Act 1996 was issued at the County Court on the basis that the Local Authority had erred in law when reaching their decision of 23 September 2020.
The Grounds of appeal raised were:
- i) The Local Authority failed to consider whether their duty could have been discharged in or closer to their district, as well as what other accommodation had been available at the time of the offer;
- ii) The Local Authority failed to properly apply the criteria in Article 2 of The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012;
- iii) The Local Authority failed to properly apply the criteria in Article 3 of The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012; and
- iv) The Local Authority breached the public sector equality duty contained within the Equality Act 2010.
At a hearing on 4 March 2021, the County Court dismissed Mr Hajjaj’s appeal and confirmed the decision of 23 September 2020. In his Judgment, Mr Recorder Cohen QC confirmed that the Local Authority were entitled to make assumptions in the absence of circumstances that suggested otherwise. He also took into account the Landlord was a well-known local social charity (St. Mungo’s).
A further appeal was then filed at the Court of Appeal on 25 March 2021. The Ground relied upon was as above, that the Judge had erred in law by finding that the Local Authority could make assumptions that the criteria of Article 3 of The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 were satisfied unless there were circumstances that reversed that presumption.
Permission for the appeal was granted on 5 July 2021. The matter proceeded to a hearing before Lord Justice Bean, Lord Justice Nugee Mrs Justic Falk on 26 October 2021. The Judges granted the appeal, with Lord Justice Bean stating in his Judgment that “The reliance on assumptions is such a departure from what the Act and the 2012 Order require that the decision in Mr Hajjaj’s case cannot be allowed to stand”. Subsequently, the Local Authority’s decision of 23 September 2020 was quashed.
Solicitor Alexander Panayi at social-justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said: “This is an important confirmation by the Court of Appeal. It is vital that Local Authorities take active steps to confirm the criteria in Article 3 are met, as it should not fall on the applicant, Mr Hajjaj in this case, to raise issues, such as the physical conditions of the property, after the offer has been made.
“The Court’s decision is crucial at a time when Local Authorities are relying more and more upon private rent sector accommodation to house those that they owe a duty towards. To allow Local Authorities to make assumptions could lead to many homeless applicants end up in sub-par accommodation. This is what the criteria in Article 3 sets out to avoid.”
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