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Suitability of accommodation

This content applies to England

Assessing suitability of accommodation offered, secured or provided under the provisions of Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.

Any accommodation secured under the provisions of Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 must be suitable.[1] This applies whether the accommodation is secured under a duty or a discretionary power, and includes interim accommodation secured under section 188.

Factors to consider

Accommodation can be unsuitable for any number of reasons, including:

Some of the factors which a local authority should consider are referred to in case law, including cases concerning intentional homelessness, and whether accommodation is reasonable to continue to occupy. The same principles and case law apply in all three contexts.

The Secretary of State can specify by order any matters that must be taken into account when determining whether accommodation is suitable.[2] For detailed information about the factors that must be considered or are otherwise significant in assessing whether accommodation is suitable or not, see Assessing suitability: type, standard and affordability and Assessing suitability: location

Guidance

In assessing the suitability of accommodation, the local authority must have regard to the Homelessness Code of Guidance for local authorities.[3]

The 2018 Code replaces supplementary guidance on domestic abuse and homelessness, and supplementary guidance issued in 2012 (which explained the changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and by the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012).

Suitability over time

The suitability of accommodation is to be looked at over time and will depend upon the applicant's particular circumstances.[4] The suitability of accommodation can change over time, so somewhere that may be suitable for occupation for a short period may be unsuitable if it is to be occupied for a longer period.[5] This is not the same as saying that there is a lower standard of suitability for temporary accommodation.

Public sector equality duty

When assessing the suitability of accommodation offered to disabled people, or people with another protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, the local authority must comply with the public sector equality duty. In order to comply with the duty, the decision maker should demonstrate a focus on or recognition of the following:

  • the applicant's disability or other protected characteristic
  • how the applicant's impairments or protected characteristics are relevant to the suitability of the accommodation
  • any disadvantages that such an applicant might suffer when compared with an applicant without the particular impairments/characteristic
  • accommodation needs arising from her/his impairments/protected characteristic
  • that such an applicant might be required to be treated more favourably than applicants without impairments/characteristic, and
  • a review of the suitability of the accommodation in light of those matters.

The authority does not have to individually address each of these matters in its decision letter.[6] However, the decision must show a recognition of the severity of the disability. In one case, an applicant described the 'severe pain' he felt when climbing stairs and while recognising this early on, the review decision later described climbing the stairs as 'uncomfortable and inconvenient' for him. The court found this to be 'down-grading' the severity of the condition without explanation and not to demonstrate a sharp focus on the disability, its extent or its likely effect.[7]

Circumstances of applicant and household

The accommodation must be suitable for the applicant and all members of her/his household who reside with her/him, or might reasonably be expected to reside with her/him.[8]

Until such time as the local authority's duty is finally ended, if the applicant's circumstances change, the authority must reconsider whether the accommodation is still suitable. Where the authority is aware that the applicant's needs are likely to change (for example because they are terminally ill and in need of palliative care), the authority should keep the suitability of accommodation under more regular review.[9]

An overall or composite view is required,[10] which may involve a multi-disciplinary approach with information from doctors, health visitors or other agencies to assess specific housing need. Some local authorities have special 'housing needs panels' to assist with such assessments.

The provision of two separate units of accommodation (such as two adjoining flats or two separate rooms in a hostel, whether self-contained or not) could be suitable if they are located to enable the applicant and her/his family to live together in practical terms.[11]

When making a decision about the suitability of accommodation the local authority must have regard to the need to promote and safeguard the welfare of any children in the applicant's household.[12]

General housing circumstances and local authority resources

Lack of resources cannot be relied on as a reason for offering unsuitable accommodation. The courts have also held that the performance of the duty to secure suitable accommodation cannot be deferred, and an authority should not limit itself to considering only leased premises or bed and breakfast when arranging temporary accommodation.[13]

However, when assessing what accommodation is suitable for an applicant, local authorities are entitled to take into account the practical constraints imposed by finances and availability of stock in the area as well as demand from other applicants. They can also consider the housing conditions in the locality.[14]

In deciding whether the court should grant an injunction to provide suitable accommodation, it has been held that the relevant factors are the:

  • nature of the temporary accommodation offered
  • length of time the council had been in breach of its duty
  • effort made to find suitable accommodation.

In one case where a family had spent approximately six months in an overcrowded hostel, the judge did not accept that lack of resources was a relevant consideration and ruled instead that far too long had been spent without the family being properly accommodated. He granted a mandatory order requiring the authority to provide suitable accommodation within two months.[15]

Disabled applicants

In cases where an applicant is disabled and the public sector equality duty is engaged, the conditions of other applicants can also be taken into account, but consideration must be restricted to the conditions in which other disabled people live: not 'the generality of persons who are not living in ideal conditions'.[16]

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] s.206(1) Housing Act 1996.

[2] s.210(2) Housing Act 1996.

[3] Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, February 2018.

[4] Birmingham CC v Ali and others: Moran v Manchester CC [2009] UKHL 36; Temur v Hackney LBC [2014] EWCA Civ 877.

[5] Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57; Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC [2005] HLR 1; see also Anon v Lewisham LBC, Central London County Court, 5 July 2018 (non-binding County Court case).

[6] Hackney LBC v Haque [2017] EWCA Civ 4.

[7] Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57.

[8] ss.206(1) and 207(3) Housing Act 1996; para 17.2 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018; R v Brent LBC ex p Omar (1991) 23 HLR 446, QBD.

[9] R v Westminster CC ex p Zaher [2003] EWHC 101 Admin; Muse v Brent LBC [2008] EWCA Civ 1447; paras 17.7, 17.8 and 17.10 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

[10] R v Lewisham LBC ex p Dolan (1993) 25 HLR 68, QBD; Hackney LBC v Haque [2017] EWCA Civ 4.

[11] Sharif v Camden LBC [2013] UKSC 10.

[12] s.11 Children Act 2004; Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22.

[13] R v Newham LBC ex p Begum (2000) 32 HLR 808, QBD.

[14] Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57;  Poshteh v Kensington and Chelsea RBC [2017] UKSC 36; Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22; R v Newham LBC ex p Sacupima (2000); R v Newham LBC ex p Ojuri (No 3) (1998) 31 HLR 452 QBD; 33 HLR 18, CA; R (Omar) v Brent LBC [1991] 23 HLR 446.

[15] R (on the application of Khan) v Newham LBC [2000] EWHC 334 (Admin).

[16] Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57.

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