Intentional Homelessness

July 7th, 2017 by James Goudie KC


The case of Alfonso-da-Trindade v Hackney LBC (2017) EWCA Civ 942 concerns becoming becoming homeless intentionally and Section 191 of the Housing Act 1996, which provides (emphasis added):-

“(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.”

There were two grounds of appeal: whether the appellant was unaware of any relevant fact when she ceased to occupy accommodation; and in relation to good faith. The appeal was dismissed on both grounds.

The case is one where unawareness of any relevant fact related where an expectation regarding what might happen in the future was falsified. Sales LJ said:-

“23.    … when an expectation regarding what might happen in the future is falsified, what the court has to look for when assessing whether the applicant was “unaware of any relevant fact” is an active and informed understanding of the applicant, at the time she does or omits to do something within the scope of section 191(1), of the current prospects in relation to that expectation working out as anticipated, where in fact (as judged objectively at that time) there was no good foundation for the applicant’s assessment of those prospects.

  1. The authorities to which we were taken on the question of the application of section 191(2), where future events do not transpire as the applicant expected they would, are all put in terms of unawareness at the time of the relevant act or omission of the real prospects judged as at that time of events turning out that way.
  2. The proper approach to be derived from such authorities, … was summarised by Carnwath J (as he then was) in an influential passage in the Obeid case at (1996) 29 HLR 389, 398: “The effect of those judgments, as I understand them, is that an applicant’s appreciation of the prospects of future housing or future employment can be treated as ‘awareness of a relevant fact’ for the purposes of the subsection, provided it is sufficiently specific (that is, related to specific employment or specific housing opportunities) and provided it is based on some genuine investigation and not mere ‘aspiration'”. This statement of the relevant principle has been authoritatively endorsed more than once by this court: …”

“28.    … The subsection is clearly directed to a point in time when the act or omission referred to in section 191(1) occurs, and it is at that time that the “relevant fact” has to exist and that the applicant has to be unaware of it. It is only by treating as a “relevant fact” the current prospects of an expectation as to the future materialising, based on current objective facts, that the analysis in the authorities can be fitted within the scheme of section 191.”

As regards “in good faith”, Sales LJ said:-

“33. … the question of good faith for the purposes of section 191(2) has to be judged within the scheme of the 1996 Act and by reference to the matters which the Act regulates. …

  1. Accordingly, what is relevant is good faith by the applicant in relation to her housing position and requirements for accommodation. Good faith in this context does not turn on whether the applicant acted (or omitted to act) with a laudable or understandable motive, judged by reference to wider social or personal concerns which have nothing to do with her housing requirements. …”

“36.    … in a case involving current prospects of future events such as is under consideration on this appeal, I consider that the test adopted in the … authorities … in relation to what counts as unawareness of any relevant fact is very likely in practice to subsume the question of good faith in section 191(2). A person who can satisfy that test will almost invariably have acted in good faith in relation to sorting out their housing needs.”

Irwin and Moylan LJJ agreed.


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