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Priority need refusal letters

This content applies to England

Decision letters where the local authority has decided that an applicant is not in priority need.


If the local authority decides that the applicant is not in priority need, its decision letter will not usually be lawful if it merely lists the categories of priority need and records that an applicant does not fall within any one of them.[1]

Content of the letter

The letter must contain sufficient information to enable the applicant to understand why they have been unsuccessful and enable them to assess the prospects of challenging the decision further (see Challenging local authority decisions for more information).

In applying the test of vulnerability an authority is not required to spell out the characteristics of the comparator – ie an ordinary person – nor to define the terms 'vulnerable' or 'significantly';[2] however using statistical data to determine who the comparator is and whether an applicant is vulnerable is dangerous and should be avoided.[3]

The content of the decision letter, in particular the amount of detail it contains, depends on the circumstances of the individual case.[4]

The Supreme Court has held that expressions such as 'street homeless' and 'fend for oneself' should be avoided in decision letters and documents that are intended to have a legal effect, because they are subject to different interpretations by different people; the wording used in the Housing Act 1996 should be preferred. It also held that the Public sector equality duty requires that the authority must focus very sharply on whether an applicant with an actual or probable disability, or other protected characteristic, is vulnerable as a result. Where an applicant has a protected characteristic, inquiries must be even more careful, and fuller reasons must be given for a negative decision.[5]

Where a decision letter stated the correct test of vulnerability, and proceeded to list a number of reasons why the council found an applicant to be 'not vulnerable', the Court of Appeal held that the reviewing officer's failure to 'tie' each of those reasons to the correct comparator did not mean that he had applied the wrong test.[6]

Applications made before 3 April 2018

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

[1] R v Islington LBC ex p Trail (1993) The Times May 27, QBD.

[2] Tetteh v Kingston Upon Thames RLBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1775; Rother DC v Freeman-Roach [2018] EWCA Civ 368.

[3] Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30.

[4] Tetteh v Kingston Upon Thames RLBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1775.

[5] Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30.

[6] Rother DC v Freeman-Roach [2018] EWCA Civ 368.

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