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Relevance and homelessness

By Dave

Safi v Sandwell BC (2018) EWCA Civ 2876 can be regarded as a footnote of some significance in the factors which are relevant in determining whether a household is homeless for the purposes of s. 175, Housing Act 1996.  (And, as a footnote to that footnote, a point for the cognoscenti of review processes: it is interesting that Sandwell has a review panel (whether officer or councillor-led is not clear from the report), which appears to work by way of meetings; such panels, which were frequently constituted prior to and just after the 1996 Act, are rare these days, reviews being conducted commonly by a single officer.)

Ms Safi made an application for homelessness assistance on behalf of herself, her partner, and young child, who were living in a one bedroomed flat with damp and which was on the first floor without a lift, causing her trouble in accessing the property.  After some trouble in getting Sandwell to consider the application, by a s. 184 decision on 30th December 2015, they then found her not homeless.  She requested a review through CLP, her solicitor, but CLP overlooked Sandwell’s letter requesting Ms Safi’s authority for release of her file and the £10 fee.  The panel then made a kind of “minded to” decision upholding the not homeless finding, suggesting that Ms Safi could obtain accommodation through the allocations process.  Ms Safi, meanwhile, had become pregnant again, and CLP made representations (having provided the authorisation and fee) noting the pregnancy and the overcrowding.  The panel then met again and confirmed the decision on 20th June 2016, making the point that Ms Safi could obtain accommodation through the waiting list within a reasonable period if she was “flexible with her areas of choice”.  The panel also provided “helpful” advice to Ms Safi on how she might arrange her weekly shop and hold her baby while going up the staircase.

The point of significance in the case was whether, in looking to the future, the council had to take account of the birth of the second child or whether, as Sandwell argued, their decision could be made on the basis of the family as then constituted.  David Richards LJ, giving the only reasoned judgment, held that it was the former, and, as Sandwell had not given thought to the question whether the impending birth of the second child made it reasonable for the household to continue to occupy the flat.  At (30), he said that the council had to address two questions:

First, taking account both of the present circumstances of the appellant and her family and of her pregnancy with the birth due in October 2016, was she “homeless”, i.e. was it reasonable, looking to the foreseeable future as well as the present, for them to continue to occupy the flat? Second, if the answer was in the negative, how long in the short term was it reasonable for them to continue to occupy the flat and, in the light of that period, would they be able to obtain suitable accommodation in that period through the operation of the housing list.

Sandwell had not addressed those questions.

There was also a procedural failure (at (30)-(31)), because the CLP representations on review, including the fact that Ms Safi was pregnant for the second time, were not considered in the first minded to notice, and the extended reasons in the final decision on those issues meant that Ms Safi also had no opportunity to deal with the more detailed consideration of the comments about her rehousing through the allocations scheme.  It is good to see the Court of Appeal taking a more robust approach to the procedural issues than one finds in some other decisions.


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