HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS

September 18th, 2014

Review Process

Where a non-English speaker declines an offer of a flat, causing the local authority to conclude it has discharged its section 193 Housing Act 1996 duty, but seeks a review on the basis that she was confused by the process and had not properly understood, it was for the court to decide whether the assertion of confusion was sufficiently important, objectively speaking, to the fairness of the procedure to justify requiring the safeguard of a ‘minded to’ letter under regulation 8(2) of the Allocation of Housing and Homelessness (Review Procedures) Regulations 1999. That letter offered an opportunity to make representations, and the Regulations must be construed purposively in that light. It was artificial to distinguish between new matters and matters always known to the applicant. So long as the assertion of confusion was at all plausible, a regulation 8(2) letter must be sent (and if it was not, there must be full reasons as to why not): Mohamoud v Birmingham City Council [2014] EWCA Civ 227.

Where a review is carried out under the 1999 Regulations, nothing in the Regulations (which distinguished between the original decision and the review decision) or in sections 202-203 (which were framed in the present tense) of the Housing Act 1996 obliged the reviewing officer to come to more favourable decision. It was perfectly possible that a less favourable decision might be the outcome. As a result, a review of a decision which the applicant to be homeless but not in priority need could lawfully conclude that the applicant was not even homeless: Temur v Hackney London Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 877. There was no prohibition on taking into account events subsequent to the review application (Mohammed v Hammersmith & Fulham London Borough Council [2001] UKHL 57; [2002] 1 AC 547), and the fact that the applicant had acquired accommodation in the meantime was an appropriate consideration. The scarcity of social housing meant that as a matter of policy it would be extraordinary if homelessness duties continued to apply to a person who was no longer homeless.

The obligation on a reviewing officer to give full and proper reasons encompasses consideration of the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, the applicant’s explanation for her expenditure (where the decision was one of intentional homelessness because of failure to pay rent), the housing officer’s judgment about non-essential items of expenditure and whether other items of expenditure were excessive. The more detailed the justification produced by the applicant, the more detailed the reasons for rejecting that justification were required: Farah v Hillingdon London Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 359.

Priority Need

K was a married man with a 21 year old son, living in private rented accommodation, having been assessed by the local authority as at greater risk because of a medical condition. When given notice to quit his private accommodation, the authority declined to classify him as being in priority need because he could control his condition with medication and had a stable family support network to help him cope. A challenge to the reliance on a stable support network failed. The reviewing officer, who would have considerable practical experience, had not failed to evaluate the risk, and was not obliged to refer the point to the medical assessment service. K had access to treatment though his GP and hospital. Moreover, the public sector equality duty could not extend to requiring a housing authority to secure accommodation for a disabled person where their disability did not render them vulnerable: Kanu v Southwark London Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1085.

Homelessness and Legal Aid

An appeal under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996 had to fall within the public law category of legal aid within the meaning of paragraph 19(1) of Part I of Schedule 1 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which applies only to judicial review. A section 204(1) appeal was “an appeal on any point of law”, not a judicial review (in contrast to a matter under section 204A). Although there was substantial overlap between an appeal on a point of law and judicial review a body with jurisdiction over appeals on a point of law was not required to apply judicial review principles in every case. Section 204 appeals fell outside paragraph 19(1) and there was no entitlement to legal aid: Bhatia Best Ltd v Lord Chancellor [2014] EWHC 746 (QB).

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