Social Housing Speed Read – R (on the application of SH) v Waltham Forest London Borough Council (2019)
18th November 2019
In this week's speed read we consider the recent case of R (on the application of SH) v Waltham Forest London Borough Council, in which the Court reviewed Waltham Forest London Borough Council's ("the Council") decision that it had discharged it's duty to SH under s.193 of the Housing Act 1996.
Under s.193 of the Housing Act 1996, a local housing authority has a duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally. Unless the authority refer the application to another local housing authority, they must secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant.
In R (on the application of SH) v Waltham Forest London Borough Council, SH was granted refugee status upon arrival in the UK. The Council accepted that SH was owed a duty under s.193 of the Housing Act 1996 and, as a result, offered SH accommodation in Ilford. However, an offer letter complying with the requirements of s.193 was never sent to SH.
One year later, SH was subject to a no-fault eviction. However, the Council still accepted that SH was owed a duty under s.193 and, in order to discharge this duty, facilitated a private rented sector offer. SH accepted this offer of accommodation in Tottenham. However, it transpired that the communal grounds of the property were used as a brothel. A psychotherapist from the Refugee Council wrote to the Council detailing the serious effects that this was having on SH’s mental health. In addition, the Council was informed of the effect that this was having on SH’s daughter.
Following this, SH asserted that she was homeless and a homeless application was made. The Council treated this application as a new application, rather than a continuing application (as SH had claimed that it was). The Council offered SH accommodation which she refused. As a result of this refusal, the Council informed SH that their duty to her had been discharged and that they were no longer required to secure accommodation for her. SH applied to the Court for a review of this decision.
The Court held that the duty had never been discharged in relation to SH’s first application. SH had not been provided with a compliant offer letter for the property in Ilford and, as a result, the Council had not complied with their statutory duty.
The Court then proceeded to consider the second property in Tottenham. It was held that the Council had not discharged it’s duty in relation to this property either. Under s.193(7F), a local housing authority must not approve a private rented sector offer unless they are satisfied that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant. The Court held that the property was clearly not suitable for SH and her daughter, and that it had never been suitable from the outset. The Council had not satisfied itself that the accommodation was suitable. Even a slight degree of due diligence would have brought the issues at the property to the attention of the Council.
As a consequence of the Council failing to discharge their duty on both occasions, SH’s subsequent application was held to be a continuing application, rather than a new application. Ultimately, it was held that the original duty was still continuing and that the Council had breached this duty.
This judgment clearly illustrates the importance of complying with the requirements of s.193 of the Housing Act 1996 and the duty to persons with priority need who are not homeless intentionally. Any offer must be accompanied by an offer letter which complies with the requirements of the Act. Furthermore, in relation to a private rented sector offer, a local housing authority must also take the necessary steps to satisfy itself that the accommodation is suitable for the applicant. A failure to do so can lead to a finding that the local housing authority has acted unlawfully.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or 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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