For once, Birmingham was on the winning side of an entirely predictable Court of Appeal judgment on homelessness law. Omar -v- Birmingham City Council 2007. (7 June 2007. Times Report. Not yet freely available elsewhere)
Birmingham had discharged duty to the appellant after he refused an offer of permanent accommodation, which was found to be suitable on review. Omar appealed on the basis that the offer letter had stated that it was ‘a final offer’ and that this did not comply with the requirements of s.193(7) Housing Act 1996, which states
(7) The local housing authority shall also cease to be subject to the duty under this section if the applicant, having been informed of the possible consequence of refusal and of his right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation, refuses a final offer of accommodation under Part 6.
(7A) An offer of accommodation under Part 6 is a final offer for the purposes of subsection (7) if it is made in writing and states that it is a final offer for the purposes of subsection (7).
The statement that this was ‘a final offer’ was contended not to state that this was an offer of accomodation under Part VI, and so not meet the requirements of (7). The Appeal to the County Court was dismissed and taken to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that the explict reference to a final offer could only mean an offer under Part VI. The terms of (7) were mandatory, but there was no need to rigidly follow a form of words if the point was conveyed adequately. Here, the addition of words to the effect that this was an offer under Part VI would not add anything useful or necessary for the appellant’s understanding.
Apparently some County Court appeal judgments had gone the other way, which is a surprise. What isn’t a surprise is the Court of Appeal verdict. To be honest, I’ve never seen any client who didn’t understand they were only getting the one offer and that this would be the end of it. What the clients do get very confused about is what constitutes ‘suitable’, usually being wildly over-optimistic.
In any case, the Court apparently adds for good measure, the appellant’s refusal also fell under s.193(5):
(5) The local housing authority shall cease to be subject to the duty under this section if the applicant, having been informed by the authority of the possible consequence of refusal, refuses an offer of accommodation which the authority are satisfied is suitable for him and the authority notify him that they regard themselves as having discharged their duty under this section.
The rolling together of s.193(5) and (7) here is interesting. The way it is done appears to mean that (7) is more or less irrelevant if (5) is to apply to any offer, whether temporary or permanent accommodation (a Part VI offer). If so, this is slightly worrying, because (5) only has a test of ‘suitable’, where (7F) gives a two part test – ‘suitable’ and ‘reasonable for him to accept’. It is entirely possible for an offer to be suitable but not ‘reasonable to accept’, as this latter is a subjective test (Slater v LB Lewisham (2006)  EWCA Civ 394). I’m awaiting an approved judgment to see about this, because I’m not sure that (5) should apply to Part VI offers of permanent tenancy.
Nearly Legal’s sage words to anyone facing their one offer are take the offer and request a review of suitability at the same time, thus minimising the risk of ending with nothing. There has to be a very significant problem for an offer not to be suitable, on the order of being placed near to a previous abuser, or at a virtually impossible distance from medical support structures, for instance. Not liking the layout of the bathroom or the view from the front window won’t do (and yes, I have heard those put forward).