Just how bad and inappropriate does temporary accommodation have to be to be unsuitable? There is an interesting post by David Thomas on the Anthony Gold ‘Housing and Public Law’ blog about a settled Judicial Review that highlights this issue.
The challenge was to the suitability of temporary accommodation provided as interim accommodation and then provided after acceptance of the full housing duty, so under both s.188 and s.93 Housing Act 1996. The principles would also apply to all pre-decision accommodation or pending review or appeal, as it must also be suitable under Housing Act 1996 s.205 and s.206(1)
As David notes, Lady Hale’s comments in Birmingham City Council v Ali; Moran v Manchester City Council  UKHL 36 (our note here) to the effect that that accommodation which may be unreasonable for a person to occupy for a long period may be reasonable for him to occupy for a short period, gave Local Authorities a considerable apparent leeway over the suitability (and indeed standard) of interim and temporary accommodation secured for homeless applicants, as there was always the fall back position that it was only for a (relatively) short period.
Mr A was a homeless applicant with two sons, aged 14 and 4. He applied as homeless to Southwark and was placed in a hostel owned by Southwark. The initial decision was negative, as was the review. However, after a s.204 appeal was issued, Southwark settled and accepted the full housing duty.
Mr A and his sons were accommodated in the same hostel pending the appeal, which was when the Judicial Review was issued, and after Southwark accepted the full duty.
The hostel accommodation was a single bedsitting room, a small attached kitchen and shared use of a bathroom. According to the independent EHO sent to inspect by Mr A’s solicitor, the double bed was ‘far past the end of its useful life’, the single bed in very poor condition, the wardrobe swayed, the cooker was faulty, the heating unit inadequate for the space. There were two shared bathrooms for 13 people and most of the time Mr A was there, only one had hot water. Rainwater leaked through the bathroom light fittings. The only WCs were in the bathrooms. Mr A’s room had severe condensation damp. Unsurprisingly, these conditions had a bad effect on Mr A’s children, who had difficulty sleeping or studying.
The property was overcrowded under both the old statutory limits and Housing Act 2004 provisions. The use of the hostel accommodation was also in breach of Southwark’s own guidance on accommodation with shared bathrooms being suitable for families with children at least for longer than 6 weeks.
Southwark’s initial response was to assert that the property was suitable. A Judicial Review application was issued and, although interim relief was refused, expedition was ordered. A month later, permission was granted, and a full hearing listed for three weeks time. In the week before the hearing, Southwark offered no less than 4 other properties as temporary accommodation, one of which was accepted as suitable. The JR was discontinued save on the issue of costs, which has gone to written representations.
While the principles of suitability have not changed, and to that extent, there is no new law here per se, it is true that Lady Hale’s view in Birmingham CC v Ali made challenges to temporary accommodation more difficult, as the counter-argument that a property was suitable when viewed as short term accommodation would be raised. It is good to see a challenge made to what was on any measure atrocious accommodation and a successful outcome for the applicant.
Thanks to David Thomas of Anthony Gold for bringing it to our attention and for letting us adapt his post.