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Protection of property

This content applies to England

An explanation of the duties local authorities have to protect the personal belongings of those to whom it has a duty to provide accommodation.

Duty to protect property

There may be a duty to protect belongings where a local authority has reason to believe that an applicant's property (or that of a member of her/his household):[1]

  • is in danger of loss or damage because the applicant is unable to protect it and no other arrangements have been made to protect it and
  • no other suitable arrangements have been made.

'Danger' refers to a 'likelihood' rather than a 'possibility' of loss or damage.[2]

The duty will exist where the local authority are already under a duty:[3]

  • to prevent or relieve homeless
  • to secure that interim accommodation is available
  • under the provisions regarding intentionally homeless applicants
  • of accommodation while a referral to another area is made.

Definition of property

The legislation concerns 'personal property' but does not provide a definition. Case law suggests that property an applicant uses to carry out a commercial business might not come within the definition,[4] but otherwise a local authority should interpret the term widely.[5]

Pets

Where an authority is under a duty to accommodate, it must be 'sensitive' to the importance of any pet in considering assessing suitability: type, standard and affordability.[6] If it is not possible to accommodate the applicant with any pets, then it could be argued that pets form a part of the applicant's property and should therefore be protected under this duty.

The Dogs Trust Hope Project has compiled a list of hostels that will accept people with dogs.

As an alternative, some homeless applicants may prefer to approach the Dogs Trust Freedom Project to find temporary foster care for their pet (not only dogs).

Ways of performing duty

There are two ways in which the authority can perform its duty to protect property:[7]

  • by moving it to a particular location requested by the applicant
  • by 'dealing with personal property ... in any way which is reasonably necessary, in particular by storing it for arranging for its storage'.

Before an authority move the property to a location of an applicant's choice, they must warn her/him that they will have no further duties to protect it.[8]

Charges and conditions

The authority can impose conditions on the action it takes, for example, making a reasonable charge or disposing of property in particular circumstances.[9]

Ending the duty

Where the authority performs its duty by moving the applicant's belongings to a location chosen by the applicant, the duty will end once they have been moved.[10]

If the authority are storing the applicant's belongings, then the duty will not end until there is no longer any reason to believe that the applicant can deal with her/his property so that there is no longer any danger of loss or damage.[11] This will be the case even if the authority are no longer under a duty to accommodate the applicant (for example, the applicant is intentionally homeless and has been accommodated for a reasonable period).[12] Even when the duty to protect property comes to an end, the authority will still have a power to do so.[13]

When the duty has ended, or the authority have ceased to act on the power to store belongings the authority should either deliver notification to her/him or send notification to her/his last known address.[14]

Remedies

As outlined above, homelessness legislation imposes a duty of protection of property in some cases. Once property is under control of a local authority, whether this is the reason or not, the can be found liable for damages on grounds of negligence if loss or damage occurs. In one case, a couple evicted from where they were squatting were awarded damages when the property being stored for them by the authority was found to be missing.[15]

There have been successful complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman on property related issues, where maladministration has been found. For example:

  • compensation was awarded where the authority failed to fulfil its duty to protect moveable property[16]
  • £750 was awarded where property was damaged when stored by the local authority in a garage that was flooded. However, the authority was held not to be at fault for damage caused to property because of condensation in the temporary accommodation provided for the applicant[17]
  • £6000 was awarded where the local authority put an applicant's belongings into storage and ended main housing duty when the applicant did not pay the bed and breakfast charge. The authority believed that the applicant had found work and could take care of his own belongings. It informed the applicant that it had no further duty and disposed of them. It was found to have failed to satisfy itself that the applicant could take care of its belongings and to have failed to give reasons for ending the duty.[18]

See Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) for more information about complaining to the Ombudsman.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references on this page are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

[1] s.211(1) Housing Act 1996.

[2] Deadman v Southwark LBC (2000) 33 HLR 865, CA.

[3] s.211(2) Housing Act 1996 as amended by s.5(12) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

[4] R v Chiltern DC ex p Roberts (1990) 23 HLR 387.

[5] see also art 1, First Protocol European Convention on Human Rights (duty on public authority to prevent individuals losing their possessions).

[6] para 17.62, Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[7] s.212(1)(b) and s.212(2)(a) Housing Act 1996.

[8] s.212(2) Housing Act 1996.

[9] s.211(4) Housing Act 1996.

[10] s.212(2)(b) Housing Act 1996.

[11] s.212(3) Housing Act 1996.

[12] s.211(2) Housing Act 1996.

[13] s.211(3) Housing Act 1996.

[14] s.212(4) and s.212(5) Housing Act 1996.

[15] Mitchell v Ealing LBC [1979] QB 1; [1978] 2 WLR 1999; [1978] 2 All ER 779; 76 LGR 703; 122 SJ 213.

[16] 199/80 Strathclyde Regional Council

[17] 99/B/4902 Guildford BC, Housing Aid Update October 2001.

[18] 03/B/06452 Sutton LBC.

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