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Challenging homelessness decisions: overview

This content applies to England

A general overview of challenging local authority homelessness decisions .

The three main ways that a decision can be challenged, the remit of the court and the importance of obtaining evidence, situations where appeals need to be brought at short notice, and why there may be more than one remedy when challenging a decision.

Ways in which a decision can be challenged

If a client disagrees with a local authority decision, there are three main ways that it can be challenged:

  • Internal review - adverse local authority decisions on homelessness are initially challenged through an internal review (also known as a statutory review) allowing a more senior person to reconsider the decision. If the applicant remains dissatisfied, s/he can appeal to the county court on a point of law (see the section on When can an appeal be used for information about what constitutes a point of law).
  • County court appeal - the county court's primary role is to ensure that the local authority has correctly understood and applied the law, and has followed a fair decision-making process. An appeal to the county court does not enable the court to consider the facts (save in very rare circumstances). The normal result of a successful county court appeal is that the local authority's earlier decision is quashed and it has to make a new decision.
  • Judicial review - although most disputes (for example, about intentional homelessness and priority need) are resolved through the statutory review process or in the county court, there are certain homelessness decisions that are not subject to the statutory review process. For example, the refusal of a local authority to accommodate a person while they go through the statutory review process. See Judicial review for further information.

There are some alternatives to using the statutory review mechanism or court proceedings

In addition, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the way in which a decision has been made.

The limited role of the court and the importance of evidence

It is very rare that a court will substitute its own decision for that of the local authority. Advisers should note that the role of the court in either a county court appeal or in judicial review proceedings is to supervise what the local authority does and, in some cases, to compel the local authority to do something that the law says it must do (ie exercise a discretion or perform a statutory function). The court is not there to decide on facts, for example, to decide whether a person is intentionally homeless or in priority need. This is why it can be very difficult to challenge some local authority priority need decisions where the authority has obtained an adverse medical report which conflicts with the evidence put forward by the applicant's medical practitioner. It is for the authority to weigh up and balance the competing evidence and to decide, with reasons, who or what to believe.[1]

Because the court has such a limited role, advisers must always remember that the decision about whether a client is owed a full housing duty should be made by the local authority. For that reason, although there may well be points of law in a decision letter which give grounds for an appeal, and even though an appeal may succeed, it should be noted that evidence, rather than the law, is often the key to ultimate success.

Urgency and time limits

Advisers need to be aware of whether a decision has been made, when the client has been notified of that decision and whether urgent action needs to be taken. There is a 21-day time limit for reviews and appeals to the county court. Emergency action may therefore need to be taken. It can be difficult to find a solicitor at short notice. However, if the case has merit, an appeal can be lodged with the briefest of details and detailed representations can be made at a later date. It is better to lodge the appeal within the time limit and amend it later than to miss the time limit. 

Overlapping remedies

When seeking to challenge a decision, a client may frequently have more than one remedy. For example, if a client with a dependent child, who has been given interim accommodation followed by a decision that s/he is intentionally homeless, is given seven days to leave the interim accommodation and is told her/his belongings will be disposed of, there may be a:

  • internal review of the intentionality decision
  • internal review of the decision as to the length of time in interim accommodation
  • judicial review of the failure to assess the client's needs before making a decision on the length of time in interim accommodation
  • judicial review of the failure to make a lawful decision under section 190(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (duty towards a homeless person who is found to be in priority need but intentionally homeless, to provide accommodation for a period to allow her/him a 'reasonable opportunity' to find alternative accommodation)
  • judicial review case in respect of the inadequate and unreasonable notice period
  • judicial review of the local authority's decision to dispose of the applicant's belongings
  • judicial review case in respect of a refusal to accommodate pending review of either the intentionality decision or the decision as to the length of time in temporary accommodation.

Advisers should consider all possible decisions that could be challenged, and investigate the remedies available for challenging them.

[1] Bellouti v Wandsworth LBC [2005] EWCA Civ 602; see also Qoraishi v City of Westminster 10 June 2014 Central London County Court, reported in Legal Action July/August 2014 p55.

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