Local Authority allocation policy, as it applies to those to whom the Authority has accepted a duty to secure accommodation, is still being thrashed out in the Courts.
Birmingham City Council is the latest to have their allocation policy found unlawful in R. (Aweys and Others) v Birmingham City Council [Link to Bailii added]. The Times Law Report describes Birmingham as having operated a two tier policy for priority in housing allocation for homeless. Those who were ‘homeless at home’ (due to unsuitability, statutory overcrowding, etc.) where placed in the lower priority band B, whereas those in temporary accommodation where placed in the top priority band A. Further, the homeless at home were expected to stay where they were.
Quite rightly, the Court gave this short shrift. Firstly, once a housing duty is accepted the Authority has a duty to secure suitable accommodation. Meaning the homeless at home can’t simply be expected to stay there.
Interestingly, the Court gave a guideline for how long the homeless at home might be expected to remain where they were, before suitable accommodation (temporary at least) should be found. Six weeks – anything over that would need clear justification.
Secondly, the Local Authority’s duty is to secure suitable accommodation and there is no basis in Part VI Housing Act 1996 for an allocation policy that states that some homeless will wait longer than others before this happens, simply because they are not in temporary accommodation (and here the Authority’s excuse for not offering them temporary accommodation was the difficulty in finding suitable temporary places – so the homeless families were effectively being penalised becase of Birmingham’s own problems). The Court found there was a clear duty to give priority to all homeless (where the duty is accepted). It is unlawful to give priority to a subset over others.
I am frankly puzzled that Birmingham thought it would get away with this. Once someone is accepted as homeless, the duty, and the priority, is clear under statute. Nice to have it confirmed, though. And that six week guideline could be useful.