Cieicierska v Brent LBC. Central London County Court, 5 September 2016.
Ms C, a single parent with 3 children, was owed the full housing duty by Brent and was in temporary accommodation. Brent made a final offer of a private sector tenancy. In Telford. The offer letter gave an appointment to view and sign the tenancy in the following week, telling Ms C she should make arrangements to travel to Telford, and stated that Ms C could accept the offer and seek a review of the suitability of the accommodation, or refuse the offer.
On the day before the appointment, Ms C’s solicitors wrote to Brent saying that Ms C was ill and unable to travel to Telford. The letter stated that Ms C was accepting the offer ‘under protest’ and requested a review of suitability of the offer under s.202 Housing Act 1996, with representations on suitability. The letter further requested that Ms C’s temporary accommodation was continued until the review decision.
Brent’s response was simply that Ms C should travel to Telford for the appointment. Brent were subsequently informed that Ms C had not been at her work on the appointment day, corroborating her illness.
Two days after the appointment date, Brent notified Ms C that they were discharging their duty to house her, on the basis that she had refused a suitable private rented sector offer. Ms C’s solicitors sought a s.202 review of that decision also, on the basis that she had not refused the offer.
Brent’s review upheld both decisions. It stated that the property was suitable and that an acceptance “under protest”, together with Ms C’s failure to attend the appointment, was not an acceptance but a refusal.
Ms C appealed to the County Court under s.204 Housing Act 1996, both on the suitability of the offer and arguing that it was wrong in law to find she had refused the offer.
At the appeal hearing HHJ Bailey rejected Brent’s argument that Ms C’s apparent acceptance had been conditional upon her being permitted to remain in interim accommodation and that the offer letter had specified that the offer could only be accepted by travelling to Telford and signing the tenancy.
HHJ Bailey accepted Ms C’s argument on acceptance of the offer, finding that it was obviously perverse for Brent to have decided that she had refused the offer. As a result, he did not need to make a finding on whether the decision on suitability was wrong in law, as the discharge of duty decision was unlawful.
This is clearly right, despite Brent’s perverse insistence that yes means no and that illness is no excuse for not going to Telford. It would have been interesting if there had been findings on the suitability decision, because it is on the face of it, hard to see how Brent could have complied with Nzolameso obligations in such an offer.