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Ways to challenge homelessness decisions

This content applies to England

The different ways in which a homeless applicant can challenge a local authority's decision.

Internal review of a homelessness decision

Most local authority decisions on homelessness can be challenged through an internal review (also known as a statutory review).

These include decisions on:

  • whether an applicant is homeless, eligible, in priority need or intentionally homeless
  • ending the prevention, relief or main housing duties
  • whether an offer of temporary is suitable

A more senior person in the local authority will reconsider the decision. The local authority must follow the correct procedure in carrying out the review. 

County court appeal of a review decision

If the applicant remains dissatisfied, they can appeal to the county court on a point of law

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 usually allow the court to consider the facts. 

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.

There is a 21 day time limit for making an appeal to the county court.

Judicial review of homelessness decisions

There are some homelessness decisions where the applicant does not have the right to request a review. The only way to challenge these decisions is by way of judicial review in the High Court.

These include where a local authority:

  • refuses to accept a homeless application
  • does not provide interim accommodation where there is reason to believe the applicant has a priority need
  • provides interim accommodation that is unsuitable

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. 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 (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.

It can be 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]

Complaints to the ombudsman

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

Overlapping remedies

When seeking to challenge a decision, a client may have more than one option. 

For example, if a client with a dependent child, who has been given interim accommodation followed by a decision that they are intentionally homeless, is given seven days to leave the interim accommodation and is told their 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 them 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
  • complaint to the Ombudsman about the local authority's conduct

[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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