01 June, 2009
The Housing Act 1996 requires local housing authorities to have schemes in place for determining levels of priority in the process of allocating properties. Those who are considered to be homeless are provided with a greater level of preference than those who are not. With housing stock in short supply and an applicant's needs great, it is inevitable that some prospective tenants do not agree with how they have been placed in the application process. In some instances, this can even lead to legal proceedings as in the case of Alam v Tower Hamlets London Borough Council  EWHC 44.
The Council's housing allocation policy divided applicants into 'community groups', according to the preference to which they were entitled. These ranged from Group 1 (the highest category) which covered those with an urgent and/or emergency need to move, Group 2 which comprised of those assessed as homeless under the Housing Act, Group 3 which included all other applications from others on the housing list, and Group 4 (the lowest grouping) which included Registered Social Landlord tenants.
Alam (A) applied as being homeless and he was subsequently provided with temporary accommodation, pending further enquiries. It was determined by the Council that A was homeless but that he did not have a priority need for accommodation. This decision was upheld on review and an appeal against the finding of no priority need was rejected. Whilst the review was being undertaken, A remained in accommodation.
Following the review process, A was placed into Group 3. A then claimed judicial review of that decision, submitting that he was in fact entitled to a place in Group 2 because he was homeless, as defined in the Housing Act 1996. The Council argued that A was in fact not homeless because he had been provided with temporary accommodation throughout the application process and secondly, an applicant who is found to be homeless but not in priority need is not to be treated as 'homeless' for the purposes of the Housing Act 1996.
In allowing A's appeal, the High Court ruled that an individual who occupies accommodation which is temporary in nature pending additional enquiries, reviews or appeals, is to be considered as homeless for the needs of the Housing Act. It was the court's view that for any other position to be viewed as correct would produce an absurd result whereby a homeless person who is provided with temporary accommodation instantly loses their protection (as a homeless person) under the Act.
The court held that the Council's allocation policy required all those deemed as homeless to be placed into Group 2, regardless of whether or not any form of duty was owed to them. By placing A into Group 3, the Council had confused whether A was entitled to assistance with the question of whether he was defined as homeless under the Act and therefore was to be afforded preference.
It was deemed to be unnecessary for an applicant for accommodation to have made a request for assistance on the grounds of homelessness before they were to be regarded as such, and therefore falling within the scope of the definition of homelessness.
This case has shown the importance of landlords using an allocation procedure which is clear, transparent and easy to understand in order to avoid such outcomes arising again in the future. A failure to do so can lead to confusion for all concerned and, in the worst cases, for decisions to be judicially reviewed.