Importance of Housing in Family Law Proceedings

Family/Divorce News

05 January, 2015

In the recent case of P (A Child: Use of S.20 CA 1989), the case is a family law matter but one which overlaps with housing law and the judgment shows that there is a need for a knowledge of housing law within family proceedings.

The case concerned a child P, and his parents F & M. When P was born, his parents were living apart. The father lived with the child's paternal grandfather in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the child's mother was living in temporary accommodation in the London Borough of Redbridge. The London Borough of Redbridge had the child taken into care in 2012, following concerns of the parents' ability to care for the child. Until the child was taken into care in 2012, the child had lived with his mother in a number of properties and the father was sometimes present.

Proceedings for a placement order then commenced and the London Borough of Redbridge acknowledged that with adequate support the parents could probably care for P adequately. During the time of the proceedings, P lived with his paternal grandfather in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. This left a problem as P's parents did not have "settled independent accommodation".

The court heard recommendations that P should be placed in settled independent accommodation in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as this was where P and his father had lived for most of P's life. However, the Royal Borough of Greenwich filed a statement at court setting out that they did not agree with a settlement order being made in their favour. At a subsequent hearing, the London Borough of Redbridge agreed to fund assistance for P's parents to be accepted by the Royal Borough of Greenwich as homeless, or in priority need.

In evidence given by the charity worker assisting P's parents, she asserted that the Royal Borough of Greenwich refused to deal with P's parents as homeless on the following basis:

  1. They refused to accept that the father had the necessary connection with the borough;
  2. The parents had not been assessed as needing housing with P because he is not in their care, despite the fact that the Royal Borough of Greenwich knew the intention was to rehabilitate P with them and in spite of their duty to assess P as a child who is reasonably expected to be in their care;
  3. The parents were assessed as needing a one bedroom property as they had no dependent and so if they insisted on two they would be advised that they would encounter bedroom tax issues;
  4. Even though the London Borough of Redbridge offered to pay a deposit and first month's rent on a privately rented property the Royal Borough of Greenwich refused to give the parents' advocates or the London Borough of Redbridge the list of acceptable private properties as the parents were not assessed as being in sufficient need;
  5. In response to advice that they should present as homeless by attending at housing office, the parents were there for 7 hours with their advocates during which they were finally allowed to submit a homeless application as a couple but were not allowed to include P as they were told that he would have to be presented to the housing office to be included.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich denied these allegations, but failed to provide any evidence in response to the above points. If the allegations were true, it is likely that the parents would have been entitled to commence judicial review proceedings against the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

At the time of the next hearing the position had changed and the Royal Borough of Greenwich indicated that they would now consider the parent's application for housing. The court described the Royal Borough of Greenwich's actions as having 'sought to put every possible obstacle in the way of an application to join the housing register'. Additionally, the judgment stated:

"I observe, however, that the most recent position statement from RBG indicates that the housing department are now satisfied that it can be reasonably be expected that P will reside with his parents and they will now consider him as part of any application for housing. However the final paragraph of that statement indicates that the RBG has failed to grasp what it is that this family needs in order to succeed in their reunification because it ends by pointing out that the most likely outcome of the application for housing will be the provision of 'temporary accommodation' and that this may include accommodation outside of the Borough."

In making the judgment, the family court has failed to recognise that under Part VI and Part VII Housing Act 1996, a homeless application will mean temporary accommodation and which could quite possibly be out of borough, although the child care provisions and orders would be a strong argument against the suitability of out of borough accommodation.

This case has highlighted the disjunction between family and housing law and of the lack of understanding of housing law and Council's housing obligations by the family courts. This is likely to be an increasing problem for family courts as demands for housing are stretched even further, highlighting the importance of housing law in family proceedings.

At Forbes, we have a highly experienced team of both housing law and family law solicitors, ensuring that our clients have the benefit of advice from both teams. For further information, please contact Bethany Paliga on 01772 220241 or by email Bethany Paliga

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