Lawyers say court guidance needed to prevent councils from engaging in mass social cleansing of the poor
Our client who was made homeless after she lost her appeal against a decision by Westminster Council to re-house her 50 miles away in Milton Keynes, has today been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision. The case will now be heard on 17th March 2015.
Our client argues that Westminster Council failed to examine all the available housing in the borough or available nearer to the authority’s district when they made their decision and therefore, it was unlawful. On 22nd October 2014, the Court of Appeal refused Our client’s appeal against the decision by Westminster Council.
At the time, Justice Moore-Bick in considering whether it was “reasonably practicable” to find our client suitable accommodation in the borough, said that it was not necessary for Westminster to explain in detail what other accommodation was available. He ruled the borough was allowed to take ‘a broad range of factors’ into account, including the ‘pressures’ on the council, in deciding what housing was available.
Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) has today successfully been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the earlier Court of Appeal decision. HJA believe the judgment is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the Housing Act which requires councils to house applicants within their local housing authority in so far as reasonably practicable.
Jayesh Kunwardia of Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) says: “The decision of the Court of Appeal sets a terrible precedent for local authorities to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale. It cannot be right that council tenants are threatened with homelessness unless they agree to uproot themselves from communities they have lived in for years. Westminster, like other councils, is under great financial pressure but this case heightens the need for the court’s scrutiny since otherwise councils may be tempted to save money by moving homeless households out of their area.
“In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that the Council looked to find accommodation in or closer to Westminster for my client at all. This decision brings long-awaited fresh hope for my client and is one of the most important social housing judgments for decades.”
Mr Kunwardia explained that the appeal will raise three distinct, but related, issues:-
a. the extent and meaning of the phrase “reasonably practicable” in section 208 of the Housing Act 1996;
b. the intensity of inquiry into and the necessary level of justification for not accommodating within in district; and,
c. the extent of the obligation in statutory guidance to secure accommodation as close to the authority’s area as possible.
In November 2012, our client and her family were evicted from their home due to rent arrears arising from Government cuts to housing benefit. Our client was offered accommodation in Milton Keynes in January 2013, but did not accept the offer on the grounds of unsuitability and pursued a review of the Council’s decision through the courts. Following the Court of Appeal decision, our client was made homeless after Westminster Council ceased to provide her with temporary accommodation.
Our client and HJA have instructed Martin Westgate QC and Lindsay Johnson from Doughty Street Chambers in this case.
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Notes to editors:
1. Our client applied as homeless to Westminster Council in November 2012. The Council accepted a duty to house her and offered her accommodation in Milton Keynes. She did not accept the offer on the grounds of unsuitability. She had lived in Westminster for over four years and had many friends who provided her support on account of her medical problems.
2. There was a review in relation to the Council’s decision followed by an appeal which came before His Honour Judge Hornby in the Central London County Court on 31 October 2013. The County Court Judge recognised the case as a “close run thing as to whether this could be said to be an unreasonable decision” but ruled the Council’s decision was not unlawful. In December 2013, our client issued her appeal to the Court of Appeal.
3. The Housing Act 1996 requires councils to house tenants within their local area as far as reasonably practicable. The law requires that accommodation secured by the local authority must be suitable for the needs of the household. Location of accommodation is relevant to its suitability. Parliament has intended that in so far “as reasonably practicable a local housing authority shall in discharging their housing functions…….secure that accommodation is available for the occupation of the applicant in their district.”
4. There is supplemental guidance for local authorities to apply determining suitability. This includes the distance of accommodation from the local authority, significance of any disruption which would be caused by the location of the accommodation to the employment, caring responsibilities, education of the person’s household and proximity and accessibility to the applicant’s support network, including local services, amenities and transport.
5. Very few local authorities when deciding issues concerning an offer of accommodation give little or no consideration to the matter of what is in the best interest of the children. Shelter filed submissions to support the appeal on that point.
6. Statistics demonstrate the extent of the problem: of the 60,940 households in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2014, 15,260 (25 per cent) were housed outside of the authority’s district. This is an increase of 29 per cent, from 11,860 (21 per cent) at the same date last year. Of the 15,260 accommodated in another local authority district, 14,220 were from London authorities (93 per cent of the England total). 45,640 of the households in temporary accommodation included dependent children or a pregnant woman.
7. Hodge Jones & Allen LLP was founded in 1977 in Camden and has over 200 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm practices personal injury, clinical negligence, civil liberties, family law, wills and probate, housing, dispute resolution, criminal defence and serious fraud.