07 July, 2009
The recent case of R (on the application of Hassan) v Croydon London Borough Council has provided guidance on the potentially difficult issue of whether an applicant for accommodation is intentionally homeless and is therefore not owed any duty to house by a housing provider. Such situations can become problematic and all landlords may wish to be aware of the decision in this case.
The claimant (H) had lived in Doncaster with her husband and two children. In 2005, she applied to Croydon London Borough Council for accommodation for herself and her sons. She applied stating that she was homeless, pursuant to the Housing Act 1996, and that she had fled from Yorkshire because of violence directed at her family by a group of youths. The Council decided that she could not be defined as homeless.
The following year H reapplied as being homeless, but stated that she had left Doncaster because of domestic violence from her husband. She said that she had been too embarrassed to mention this during the previous application. The Council firstly decided that she was still not homeless but, following a review, they concluded that she was homeless but had made herself so intentionally. The reviewing officer felt that whilst she had been the victim of domestic violence, this was not the reason why she left the property. This decision was not appealed by H.
In 2008, H made a third application to the Council on the grounds of being homeless. While enquiries were carried out, H was provided with accommodation. In September 2008 the Council concluded that she was intentionally homeless for the same reasons stated two years earlier. H sought a review of this decision and additionally requested that she be accommodated pending that review. This request was refused. At this point, H's solicitor provided new information to the Council which informed them that H's son had stated that he had been subjected to violence and also that H herself had said that she wanted to kill herself and her children. In light of these details, the Council reconsidered their decision in relation to offering interim housing, but again refused to provide such accommodation.
H sought judicial review of the decision on the grounds that:
H's claim was dismissed by the High Court. It was held that there no obligation for the Council to consider what, if any, duty was owed to the children under the 1989 Act, as to impose such an obligation would make such decisions excessively complex. In the context of whether H was to be considered as intentionally homeless, the court also ruled that the Council's decision could not be said to be fundamentally flawed. They had considered the new evidence presented to them and had been well within their rights to decide that H's situation could still be considered as being exceptional and thus warranting the use of their discretion.
The High Court's ruling indicates that providers of housing may be afforded reasonable freedom to determine for themselves whether an applicant is intentionally homeless or not. It has also shown that unless a decision, in terms of deciding whether to use the discretion provided in the Housing Act 1996 or upon the status of an applicant, can be shown to be obviously wrong, the courts appear to be reluctant to interfere with that process and its outcome.