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Assessing suitability: location

This content applies to England

The importance of location in the criteria for assessing suitability of accommodation.

Location and out-of-area placements

A local authority must take into account the location of the accommodation offered, including:[1]

  • when the accommodation is located outside the authority's area, the distance from the 'placing' authority
  • the significance of any disruption to employment, caring responsibilities or education of the applicant and her/his household
  • proximity and accessibility of medical facilities and other support which are currently being provided and are essential to well-being
  • proximity and accessibility of local services, amenities and transport.

As far as reasonably practicable authorities should secure accommodation in their own areas.[2] Where this is not possible they must try to place applicants as close as possible to where they were previously living.[3]

The Supreme Court has accepted that local authorities are entitled to take account of the resources available to them in their area, but the general shortage of available accommodation is not sufficient reason for failing to comply with its obligations when making an offer of accommodation. An authority must properly consider the particular circumstances of the applicant and the availability of accommodation before securing accommodation out-of-area. A general policy of placing applicants out-of-borough because of a shortage of accommodation within the borough is not lawful.[4]

Authorities should record how decisions to place an applicant out of area have been reached, and give the applicant a reasonable amount of time to consider such an offer.[5]

Children

Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 requires that local authorities have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the applicant's household when making its decisions. The suitability of accommodation to meet a child's needs is a key component in its suitability generally.

Disruption to education and other support networks may be detrimental to a child's development. It is not enough for a local authority to only consider whether a child is approaching a significant exam when deciding whether accommodation is suitable in terms of its location; it is incumbent on the local authority to make further enquiries pursuant to section 11 of the Children Act 2004 and ensure that the child's right to education under article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights is not violated, in particular the authority must record its decisions and reasons in a way that clearly demonstrates how it evaluated the likely impact of the location of the accommodation on the educational welfare of the child.[6]

In a non-binding judgment, the county court quashed the decision of a local authority that accommodation provided out of area was suitable. The authority had failed to assess the effect on the development of a young baby of having to travel with his mother for eighty minutes four times a day, in and out of central London using a combination of  buses, walking and the underground, so that the mother could deliver and collect her two school-age children to and from school.[7]

The authority where a child is placed becomes responsible for ensuring that Children Act 1989 duties to assess her/his needs are carried out. See Social services duties to children in need for detailed information on Children Act assessments.

Beneficial placements out-of-area

An out-of-area placement may be beneficial in certain circumstances, where for example the applicant:[8]

  • faces domestic violence in the authority's area
  • is an ex-offender or drug/alcohol user who would benefit from breaking links with negative influences
  • has been subject to trafficking or modern slavery and is risk of further exploitation
  • may be able to access employment opportunities
  • does not mind where s/he lives.

Out-of-area policies

Decisions to place applicants out-of-area must be approached in the right way. The Supreme Court has suggested that each local authority should have a policy for procuring sufficient units of temporary accommodation to meet the anticipated demand during the coming year. It should also have a policy for allocating those units to individual homeless households. Where there was an anticipated shortfall of units in its own area, that policy would explain the factors which would be taken into account in offering households those units, the factors which would be taken into account in offering units close to home, and if there was a shortage of such units, the factors which would make it suitable to accommodate a household further away. Both policies should be kept up-to-date and be publicly available.[9]

If a local authority has adopted and implement lawful procurement and allocation policies, then its decisions to offer out-of-area accommodation under the terms of such policies would generally be lawful and capable of discharging its duties.[10]

Notification to other authority

If accommodation is provided in another authority's area, the local authority in that area must be informed within 14 days. The written notice sent to the other authority must state:[11]

  • the name of the applicant
  • how many people can be expected to live with the applicant, and explain who they are
  • the address of the accommodation and the date it was made available to the applicant
  • which duty was being discharged when the accommodation was secured.

See Co-operation with other agencies for more information on how two authorities should cooperate when there is a child under 18 in the homeless household, and where the applicant is likely to be found not eligible or intentionally homeless.

Risk of violence or racial violence

A local authority must take into account any risks of violence or racial violence that may affect the household.[12] For example, an offer of accommodation to a Bangladeshi family in an area of active racial harassment was quashed because the authority had not had regard to the effect of under-reporting of racist attacks.[13] The accommodation offered should not place the applicant, or any member of the household, at risk of further violence. The applicant's fear of further violence is also a consideration; not just the actual risk.[14] However the Court of Appeal has held that 'there is no room... for beliefs not based on an assessment of all the available facts' in that 'a belief may be genuinely held without being a reasonable belief.' In such circumstances the accommodation offered was suitable.[15]

Where the applicant is at risk of domestic abuse, or of modern slavery, the authority may need to offer accommodation whose location can be kept secret, and which has appropriate security and trained staff. Emergency accommodation may need to be gender-specific as well as secure.[16]

See the page Violence from any person for more about violence and domestic violence.

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] art. 2 Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 SI 2012/2601; R (on the application of E) v Islington LBC [2017] EWHC 1440 (Admin); see also paras 17.47 to 17.57 Homelessness Code of Guidance. MHCLG, Feb 2018

[2] s.208(1) Housing Act 1996.

[3] para 17.49 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[4] Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22.

[5] paras 17.61 and 17.62 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[6] Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22; R (on the application of E) v Islington LBC [2017] EWHC 1440 (Admin); paras 17.51, 17.52 and 17.59 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018; para 34 Home to school travel and transport' statutory guidance for local authorities on sustainable school travel, and school travel arrangements for children and young people, DfE, July 2014.

[7] Anon v Lewisham LBC, Central London County Court, 5 July 2018.

[8] paras 17.55 and 17.56, and 23.26 (for applicants with an offending history), and 25.22 (trafficking and modern slavery) Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[9] Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22.

[10] Alibkhiet v Brent LBC : Adam v City of Westminster [2018] EWCA Civ 2742.

[11] s.208(2) and s.208(3) Housing Act 1996, para 17.60 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[12] paras 17.6 and 21.37; para  25.21 (for victims of modern slavery), Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[13] R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex p Subhan (1992) 24 HLR 541, QBD.

[14] R v Haringey LBC ex p Karaman (1997) 29 HLR 366, QBD.

[15] Ahmed v Leicester BC [2007] EWCA Civ 843.

[16] paras 21.37 and 25.21 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

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