Social Housing Speed Read – Part VII of the Housing Act 1996
22nd February, 2016
We look at the recent High Court decision in R (Edwards and Others) v Birmingham City Council that the local authority was not guilty of systemic failure in relation to its scheme for assistance under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996.
Some comfort in determining whether a person is homeless and the assistance to be provided
The High Court held that a local authority has “considerable latitude” as to how it implements Part VII of the Act and that wide discretion will apply to the scheme which the courts would be cautious to interfere in.
On the facts, the court held that the local authority was not guilty of systemic failure. The judge did, however, comment on the local authority’s record keeping and evidence of meetings and this underlying message should be taken on board to assist should you ever be facing a challenge to a housing allocation.
Interim Accommodation where a person is “homeless at home”
The High Court acknowledged that an applicant found to be in priority need and homeless may choose to remain in their current accommodation. Statute provides that the authority must secure ‘suitable’ accommodation, and in accordance with case law, that may be accommodation that is suitable on a temporary basis.
How and why does this affect you?
As registered providers, you may operate allocation schemes in partnership with local authorities, or you may have contracted with local authorities to meet the administrative functions of Part VII of the Act.
In these instances the High Court decision should come as some relief, given that this is a very difficult area with many constraints placed on you, that the courts will be slow to interfere.
Most significantly though, it may be that your own tenants choose to make such a homelessness application. All four claimants were “homeless at home”, one being a housing association tenant living in a one-bedroomed flat on the third floor with no lift access who applied for housing under Part VII of the Act when she had a child aged one.
Another claimant was a secure local authority tenant in a three bedroomed property now too large for her, and in the face of a spare room subsidy deduction to her Housing Benefit, claimed homelessness on the basis she was not housed in suitable accommodation.
What this case therefore also highlights is the need for registered providers to take pro-active action to assess the suitability of accommodation for their existing tenants and wherever possible to offer alternatives, seeing homelessness prevention as part of your core functions.
To access the full text of the High Court case, which contains a useful discussion on the duties under part VII of the Act, please click here.
If you have any questions on Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 and how it affects social housing providers, or you are a local authority wanting advice on homelessness reviews or appeals, or you have any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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