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Assessing suitability: type, standard and affordability

This content applies to England

The factors that are criteria for the assessment of suitability.

For factors related to location, see Assessment criteria for suitability: location

Health needs

The physical nature of accommodation may be unsuitable for many reasons. Medical needs and social considerations may also affect suitability of accommodation.[1] Specific needs of those with disabilities or serious health conditions should be considered.[2] A property may be suitable when the offer is made even if it requires adaptations to make it so but only if the necessary works are certain to be carried out.[3]

Where an applicant with back problems was offered accommodation on the eighth floor of a building where the lift had broken down four times in six months, and sometimes took longer than twenty-four hours to repair, the court exercised its power to vary the decision to 'not suitable'.[4]

An applicant may need accommodation with additional room for a carer to stay.[5] But where unborn children are the issue, it was held lawful to offer a one-bedroom flat to a couple where the woman was pregnant.[6]

Bed and breakfast accommodation

Bed and breakfast accommodation should only be used as a last resort, such as where emergency accommodation is required at very short notice, or in rare cases where it is the best option for the applicant.[7]

Bed and breakfast is defined as accommodation which is not separate, self-contained premises and where a toilet, personal washing facilities or cooking facilities are shared between more than one household. It does not include accommodation which is owned or managed by the local authority, a registered social landlord, or a voluntary organisation.[8]

Bed and breakfast should not be used routinely without considering its suitability for the individual applicant.[9]

Where bed and breakfast is used, it should be for the shortest period possible and of a good standard. Where a bed and breakfast hotel is used to accommodate homeless applicants, and is their main residence, it falls within the definition of an HMO (houses in multiple occupation) and is subject to the standards for health and safety and overcrowding that apply to HMOs (see the section on Houses in multiple occupation for more information). Local authorities can set their own minimum standards for for bed and breakfast and other shared accommodation provided as temporary accommodation.[10]

Pregnant women and dependent children

Regulations state that applicants with 'family commitments', ie who are pregnant or have dependent children, or are part of a household containing a pregnant woman and/or dependent children, must not be housed in bed and breakfast accommodation unless there is no other suitable accommodation available, and then only for a maximum of six weeks. These regulations have not been amended following the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, but the Homelessness Code of Guidance is clear that they apply equally to new duties (such as the duty to relieve homelessness) that fall on local authorities as a result of that Act.[11]

Where bed and breakfast is used to accommodate an applicant with family commitments, the authority should notify the applicant that it can only be for a maximum of six weeks.[12]

If the authority refers the applicant to another local authority, for example under local connection provisions, the six-week period will begin again. The Code suggests that if there is a change in circumstances that brings an applicant accommodated in bed and breakfast accommodation within the scope of the order (eg if a member of the household becomes pregnant), the six-week period begins from the date the applicant informs the authority of the change.[13]

The prohibition on the use of bed and breakfast for applicants with family commitments does not apply where the authority is using its power to accommodate pending a decision on review or appeal.[14]

Young people and care leavers

The Code states that bed and breakfast accommodation 'is not suitable for 16 and 17 year olds even on an emergency basis'.[15] It also states that bed and breakfast is not suitable for care leavers aged under 25 and for this group 'should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for short periods'.[16]

Standard of accommodation

Housing conditions

In deciding whether accommodation is suitable the authority must have regard to the provisions in Parts 9 and 10 of the Housing Act 1985 (on slum clearance and overcrowding) and Parts 1 to 4 of the Housing Act 2004 (on housing conditions, licensing of houses in multiple occupation, selective licensing of other accommodation, and other control provisions in respect of residential accommodation).[17] As a minimum, authorities should ensure that any accommodation is free of category 1 hazards,[18] and is fit for human habitation.[19] However, an authority is not under a duty to carry out a full inspection and a hazard assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System before deciding if accommodation offered to an applicant is suitable, even when the applicant complaints about noise and its conditions. The authority is entitled to decide on the basis of evidence already available to it whether an inspection is necessary.[20]

Private rented sector accommodation: enhanced standard of suitability

Some offers of accommodation are subject to a higher 'enhanced' standard of suitability. This applies where a local authority is considering using private sector accommodation for use as:

(* only applies to homelessness applications made on or after 3 April 2018.)

In these cases, in addition to meeting the general requirements relating to housing conditions (above and with respect to location) the authority must be satisified that:[21]

  • the accommodation is in a 'reasonable physical condition'
  • any electrical equipment provided complies with electrical safety regulations
  • reasonable precautions to ensure fire safety and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning have been taken
  • there is a current gas safety record
  • there is a valid energy performance certificate
  • if the accommodation is a house in multiple occupation (HMO) which is subject to mandatory or additional licensing, it is duly licensed
  • the landlord is a 'fit and proper person'. In this regard the local authority must consider if the landlord has been convicted of certain criminal offences; has contravened any housing or landlord and tenant law; has practised unlawful discrimination; or has breached a code of practice for the management of a HMO
  • the landlord has provided the local authority with a copy of the tenancy agreement to be used, and the local authority is satisfied it is adequate.

The above requirements do not apply to accommodation that is secured (ie offered at prevention or relief stage but not as a final accommodation offer for a household that is not in priority need, or where the applicant has identified the accommodation for her/himself and been given help to secure it (for example, with a rent deposit). However, even in these cases, the authority should provide the applicant with information about housing standards, and ensure that the accommodation is safe and in reasonable condition.[22]

Hostels/refuges

In deciding whether hostels are suitable accommodation, the Code of Guidance stresses that they offer short-term accommodation. The Code draws attention to the mixed quality of hostels and advises that authorities take particular care in securing or helping to secure places in hostels which are not quality-assessed.

Vulnerable young people or families with children should not be accommodated alongside vulnerable adults. An authority should also take into account the fact that some hostels are designed to meet only short-term needs. Longer-term supported accommodation may be more suitable for young people, including those leaving care or custody, and adults who need 'a period of stability and individual support'.[23] Some hostel accommodation may be subject to the bed and breakfast requirements outlined above.

Refuges should normally be used only as a temporary measure and only for people who wish to stay in one. The housing authority should work with the refuge provider to decide how long a victim of domestic abuse needs to stay in a refuge before other accommodation is provided, and in general they should be used for the minimum time before securing suitable accommodation elsewhere. A refuge may be the most appropriate accommodation option for some victims of abuse who have severe needs and/or highly dangerous perpetrators.[24]

The Code of guidance states that, where there is no option but to accommodate a victim of modern slavery in a hostel or bed and breakfast, the accommodation may need to be gender specific and to have appropriate security. The authority must also take into account any risk of violence or racial harassment.[25]

Mobile homes

The Code also states that, although mobile homes may provide emergency accommodation, careful consideration should be given to a mobile home's suitability for the applicant, taking into account their needs and the conditions and facilities on the site. Caravans designed for short-term holiday use are not suitable.[26]

Gypsies/Travellers

The provision of land on which a Gypsy or Traveller would be able and willing to station her/his caravan, would be a discharge of the duty to provide suitable accommodation. However if there is no land available on which to lawfully station a caravan, the local authority can provide 'bricks and mortar' accommodation, even if the applicant has a 'cultural aversion' to this form of accommodation, providing it satisfies the Wednesbury minimum level of suitability (ie it is a decision that is not irrational or perverse).[27] It is outside of the scope of a homelessness review into the suitability of an offer of 'bricks and mortar' accommodation to a Gypsy/Traveller family to conduct an inquiry into the planning policies of, and the adequacy (or otherwise) of site provision by, the authority.[28]

Pets

Authorities will also need to give careful consideration to accommodating applicants with their pets, if they have any. Although it will not always be possible to do so, the authority should recognise that pets are particularly important to some people, especially older people and rough sleepers.[29] Where a pet cannot be accommodated with the applicant, the authority should make arrangements to look after the pet under its protection of property duty.

Affordability

In determining whether accommodation is suitable, a local authority must take into account affordability.[30] In particular it must consider:

  • financial resources available to the applicant; including salary, benefits, pensions and savings
  • costs in respect of the accommodation; including rent, mortgage costs, service charges, council tax, any deposit and payments to an accommodation agency
  • maintenance and child support payments
  • the applicant's reasonable living expenses.

A local authority has the power to provide or secure accommodation at a nil or peppercorn rent for an applicant who has no income or savings.[31]

The Code of Guidance offers detailed guidance on a number of the factors authorities will need to consider under affordability. It suggests that housing authorities ‘may be guided by Universal Credit standard allowances when assessing the income that an applicant will require to meet essential needs aside from living costs’.[32] Case law on affordability as a factor in deciding whether it is reasonable for someone to continue to occupy may also be relevant.[33] For further information, see the sections Defining homelessness and Intentional homelessness.

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] R (on the application of Wakie) v Haringey LBC [2007] EWCA Civ 551 Legal Action September 2007.

[2] Ombudsman complaint against Brighton & Hove CC , 10 May 2018, 16 017 200; Ombudsman complaint against Newham LBC, 25 March 2014, 13/005/484; Ombudsman complaint against Walsall MBC, 12 March 2014, 11/022/479.

[3] Boreh v Ealing LBC [2008] EWCA Civ 1176.

[4] Lane and Ginda v Islington LBC [2001] Clerkenwell CC, Legal Action April 2001.

[5] R v Hackney LBC ex p Tonnicodi [1998] QBD Legal Action March 1998; R v Southwark LBC ex p Ryder [1995] CA Legal Action September 1995.

[6] R v Newham LBC ex p Dada (1995) 27 HLR 502, CA.

[7] para 17.31 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[8] art.2 Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 SI 2003/3326.

[9] R v Newham LBC ex p Ojuri [1998] EWHC Admin 730.

[10] paras 17.42 to 17.44 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[11] Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 SI 2003/3326.

[12] para 17.36 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[13] para 17.39 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[14] art 1(2) Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 SI 2003/3326.

[15] para 17.40 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018; paras 2.10 and 2.16 Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation, MHCLG and DCSF, April 2010.

[16] para 22.27 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[18] s.210(1) Housing Act 1996; para 17.11 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[18] para 17.25 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[19] R v Exeter CC ex parte Gliddon and Draper (1984) 14 HLR 103, QBD.

[20] Firoozmand v Lambeth LBC [2015] EWCA Civ 952.

[21] art.3 Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 SI 2012/2601 as amended by s.12 Homelessness Reduction Act 2017; paras 17.14 and 17.15 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[22] art.3(2)(c) Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 SI 2012/2601 as amended by s.12(4) Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 para 17.16 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[23] paras 16.33 to 16.39 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[24] paras 21.35 to 21.37 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018;

[25] para 25.21 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[26] para 16.45 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[27] Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC [2004] EWCA Civ 925; Sheridan and others v Basildon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335; Slattery v Basildon BC [2014] EWCA Civ 30.

[28] Sheridan and others v Basildon BC (formerly Basildon DC) [2012] EWCA Civ 335; Slattery v Basildon BC [2014] EWCA Civ 30.

[29] para 17.63 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[30] Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 1996 SI 1996/3204.

[31] R (on the application of Yekini) v Southwark LBC [2014] EWHC 2096 (Admin).

[32] paras 17.45-46 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018; R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex p Kaur (1994) 26 HLR 597, QBD.

[33] Odunsi v Brent LBC [1999] Willesden CC, Legal Action August 1999; Ahmed v Westminster CC [1999] Central London CC, Legal Action June 1999; Saunders v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [1999] West London CC.

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