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Challenges to accommodation suitability

This content applies to England

The procedure for challenging the suitability of accommodation offered, and the courts' powers where a challenge is successful.

Requesting a review of suitability

Where a local authority makes an offer of accommodation, the applicant can accept the offer and request an internal review of its suitability.[1] Challenges on the issue of suitability do not often succeed and it is likely to be prudent for the applicant to accept an offer and to request a review.

Whilst a local authority must take into account the needs of the individual applicant in making a decision as to whether accommodation is suitable at the time of the offer, it is not required to set out its reasons in the letter offering accommodation as to why it considered that a property was suitable for the applicant.[2]

In the event of a review, normally the accommodation must be suitable as the facts stand at the date of review.[3] However, in certain circumstances the court may hold that in the interests of fairness the facts are to be considered at the date of the original decision, for example when the applicant refused the original offer of accommodation on grounds of suitability.[4] Local authorities are not obliged to leave accommodation empty until the conclusion of a review. If the review found that the accommodation was not suitable then the duty to the applicant under section 193 would not have been discharged.[5]

There is only a statutory right to one review of suitability. A request for review must be made within 21 days of the decision that the accommodation is suitable.[6]

If the reviewing officer upholds the decision that the accommodation is suitable, the applicant can appeal to the County Court on a point of law. The County Court can quash the decision, or vary a decision of suitable to not suitable. 

Judicial review of suitability of interim accommodation

Applicants do not have the right to request an internal review of the suitability of interim accommodation. If the accommodation offered is unsuitable, this can only be challenged by judicial review in the High Court. 

The High Court can quash a decision for failure to have regard to relevant factors in deciding on suitability, and require a new one. It is not open to the court to vary a decision of suitable to not suitable.

Complaining to the Ombudsman

A person can complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) about the suitability of accommodation offered to them in the course of a homelessness application.

In a complaint by two families against a local authority for exceeding the six-week time limit for leaving them in bed and breakfast accommodation pending further inquiries, the Ombudsman awarded financial compensation.[7] An award was also made in another case, in which a local authority placed an applicant in accommodation which was unsuitable because of her child's autism. She made them aware of this at the outset and evidence was provided a short time later. The authority failed to carry out a review of suitability and she remained there for 20 months. [8]

In the case of an applicant with impaired mobility and sense of balance who was placed in accommodation on the fourth floor without a lift, the Ombudsman recommended the local authority compensated the applicant as well as improved its procedures for dealing with suitability of interim accommodation.[9]

Where a local authority failed to deal with a request to review the suitability of temporary accommodation it provided to a homeless applicant in an efficient and timely manner, the applicant was awarded financial compensation and the Ombudsman recommended an audit of all suitability review requests received within the relevant period to be conducted by the authority.[10]

[1] s.202(1A) Housing Act 1996.

[2] Solihull MBC v Khan [2014] EWCA Civ 41.

[3] Sahardid v Camden LBC [2004] EWCA Civ 1485; Waltham Forest [2019] EWCA Civ 1944.

[4] Omar v Westminster CC [2008] EWCA Civ 421.

[5] Osseily v Westminster CC [2007] EWCA Civ 1108.

[6] R(B) v Redbridge LBC ex p B [2019] EWHC 250.

[7] LGO complaint numbers 12 009 140 and 12 013 552 against Westminster City Council.

[8] LGSCO complaint number 16 005 834 against Lambeth LBC.

[9] LGSCO complaint number 18 002 277 against Kensington & Chelsea LBC.

[10] LGSCO complaint numbers 17 017 941 & 18 005 09 against Haringey LBC.

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