Council?s homelessness policy illegal

by Martin Hilditch from “Inside Housing” magazine

Councils with desperate housing shortages are breaching their legal duty when they force families to remain in unsuitable housing for more than a very short period of time, a High Court judge has warned

Councils with desperate housing shortages are breaching their legal duty when they force families to remain in unsuitable housing for more than a very short period of time, a High Court judge has warned.

In a judgement that could have a significant impact on the sector, Mr Justice Andrew Collins found that Birmingham Council had consistently failed to deal with homeless applications in accordance with the law.

The case focused on six homeless families who were living in overcrowded homes. Mr Justice Collins said that although the city had more than 9,500 people on its waiting list it could not force people to live in unsuitable housing for more than six weeks.

He said local authorities were under a legal duty to provide suitable accommodation to homeless people
?directly or within a reasonably short time? of homelessness being established. ?I accept that families may prefer to remain in unsuitable accommodation for a short time rather than move to temporary accommodation,? he said in the judgement. ?But councils must recognise that it is a breach of their duty to
require them to do so.?

It was also impermissible to advise a person threatened with homelessness to wait until they were evicted before processing a homelessness application, he added.

He also criticised Birmingham Council for its treatment of a father from Somalia, who was living in a two-bedroom flat with his wife and six children.

A council reply to a solicitor?s letter from the family said it was accepted that ?he is slightly overcrowded at this address?.

Mr Justice Collins said: ?It was not and has not since been suggested that he is not homeless.

?Since he can only be regarded as homeless on the ground that it is not reasonable to expect him to continue to occupy his present accommodation the use of the adverb ?slightly? is extraordinary.?

The council?s home options scheme, which aims to reduce the incidence of homelessness by requiring people to be interviewed before they can apply to be accepted as homelessness, was also unlawful, he added.

?All steps taken to avoid homelessness are laudable,? he said. ?But any such steps must be taken in parallel to the carrying out of the duty under part VII [of the Housing Act 1996].?

In a statement the council said a part of its housing department?s allocations policy found to be unlawful had been reviewed and a recommendation on the whole housing policy would go to the council?s cabinet in March.

John Lines, cabinet member for housing at Birmingham Council, said: ?Over the last 20 years this council has lost over 17,000 homes due to the action of the previous administration and, in the last 10 years, 9,814 homes have been demolished.

?I would be interested in the judge?s view on how local authorities should meet the enormous demand for affordable housing with a diminishing property base.?

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– to which one may reply it is your political parties that are obsessed with the introduction of GATS through PPP/PFI and selling off anything to business. ( and don’t think the Liberals are any different…)