Recent Homelessness Ruling Prompts Reviews of Numerous Housing Cases

Article

19 May, 2015

Local authorities may potentially have to review numerous applications for accommodation after a recent decision by the Supreme Court broadened the scope of vulnerable applicants who are considered homeless.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court handed down their judgment in three conjoined appeals in the case of Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark and Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council [2015] UKSC 30. The conjoined appeals sought to determine the proper approach to determining whether a homeless applicant had a priority need for accommodation.

Under s.188 of the Housing Act 1996 ('the Act'), local authorities have a duty to ensure accommodation is made available for applicants who are homeless and have priority need and s.189 of the Act confirms that a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason has a priority need for accommodation.

The Supreme Court held that when assessing vulnerability, a local authority must pay close attention to the applicant's particular circumstances and the situation in which they find themselves homeless. Additionally, the Supreme Court also held that financial pressures should not influence decisions on applications made by homeless people claiming to be vulnerable and in priority need. The judgment states that a local authority's duty under part seven of the Act 'is not to be influenced or affected by the resources available to the authority'.

In respect of assessing the vulnerability of an applicant, the Supreme Court stated that this required a comparator and the correct comparator to use is not the ordinary homeless person, but the ordinary person who is homeless.

In addition to considering the issue of vulnerability, the Supreme Court also considered the local authority in question compliance with their public sector equality duty under s.149 Equality Act 2010. The Supreme Court held it was not enough to simply mention the public sector equality duty and that a reviewing officer must focus sharply on the following:

  1. Whether the applicant has a disability (or another relevant protected characteristic)
  2. The extent of such disability
  3. The likely effect of the disability, taken with any other circumstances, if and when homeless
  4. Whether the applicant is vulnerable as a result

Conclusion

This judgment will have affect how local authorities in the future deal with homelessness decisions and local authorities must take care to ensure that they satisfy their duties, responsibilities, and obligations to the most vulnerable members of society. In terms of reviewing previous decisions, some comfort has been provided by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, who stated that 'an appeal against a review cannot succeed in every case where the wrong comparator has been invoked or a wrong legal assumption is made'.

For further information please contact Bethany Paliga on 01772 220241.

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