Suitability and marital harmony

Ahad v London Borough of Tower Hamlets [2008] EWCA Civ 606 was an application for permission to appeal from a s.204 appeal concerning a refusal of an offer of permanent accommodation. Tower Hamlets had discharged duty on the basis that the appellant had refused an offer of accommodation that was suitable and reasonable for him to occupy, s.173(7F).

The appellant, his wife and three children made up the household. Tower Hamlets had accepted a duty. The appellant was bidding under a Choice Based Letting scheme, made a bid on the property and was successful. After viewing the property with his wife, he refused the offer.

On s.202 review, Tower Hamlets Law Centre made submissions as follows:

We submit that in the event it would not be reasonable for our client to accept the offer. He himself has not had any objection to the property and was inclined to accept it. However, his wife is adamantly opposed to the property. She feels that it is too small for her family’s needs. She does not like the area where it is located as she has no family there and would not feel safe there. Mrs Begum [Mr Ahad’s wife] indicated to our client that he could accept the property if he wished, but that she would not move to the property and neither would their three children. Mr Ahad thus believed that if he were to accept the property he and his wife would separate. Our client was therefore faced with the choice of either refusing the offer or his marriage breaking down.

In response, in the negative 202 decision, the council said:

…that Mr Ahad had not advised the council prior to or following the offer that he and his wife had differing opinions on what constituted suitable accommodation for him and, in any event, his having bid for a property, the council could only have accepted in good faith that he and his household wished to reside in the property. As he had applied to the council, it was appropriate for them to draw the inference that he acted on behalf of the whole family on bidding for the property, and the differences of opinion between him and his wife as to the type and location of the property was a domestic matter for them to discuss and reach a conclusion before making any bid.

At s.204 Appeal, the appellant argued that the Council had failed to take into account the fresh information at review concerning the likely effect on the appellant’s marriage. if it had considered them, it had failed to give adequate reasons.

Mr Ahad had, at all times, accepted that his wife’s objections were misplaced and unreasonable.

At first appeal, the County Court held that it was reasonable for the Council to expect such disputes to be resolved within the household:

The objections fell to be considered as primary objections to suitability and the reviewing officer was entitled to reject them as a reasonable basis for refusing the offer in the light of: (a) the lack of foundation for the wife’s objections; (b) the fact that the reviewing officer found that Mr Ahad was given particulars of the property and its location before bidding for it; (c) it was a choice-based bidding system; (d) the Authority was not concerned with matrimonial problems arising between the persons to be housed in a single household and the result of a dispute as to subjective matters of suitability; and (e) the Authority was not in a position to make findings of fact as to the legitimacy of Mr Ahad’s fears about the future of his marriage.

At renewed permission to appeal hearing, Lord Justice Lawrence Collins considered whether this case raised a point of principle or practice in relation to the two part test of s.193(7F) set out in Slater v London Borough of Lewisham [2006] EWCA Civ 394 and applied in Ahmed v Leicester City Council [2007] EWCA Civ 843. That test being both objective suitability for the applicant and a subjective test of whether it was reasonable for the applicant to accept the accommodation.

The Court held there was no point of principle or practice at issue. The Council had taken the ‘new’ facts into consideration and there was no flaw in the reasoning or process.

It is worth noting that the dual test of reasonable and suitable is upheld here, with no question of the subjective test not being required, as suggested by the Court of Appeal judgment in Omar v Birmingham.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Homeless, Housing law - All and tagged , , .

2 Comments

  1. Good summary; the decision itself seems eminently sensible.

    (Small point: it’s Lawrence Collins LJ, rather than Collins LJ. If I remember correctly, there was already a Collins J, so Sir Lawrence used his full name when being appointed to the High Court in order to avoid any confusion.)

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