Options after a negative homelessness decision

Alternatives to using legal proceedings when challenging local authority decisions.

This content applies to England

Options after a decision on a homeless application

Once a local authority sends the applicant its decision on their homeless application, the applicant has 21 days to request an internal review. If the review is unsuccessful, the applicant can appeal to the county court on a point of law.

There may be also other options available, including requesting an informal reconsideration or making a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. 

Regardless of which option the applicant pursues, a request for an internal review should not be delayed in the hope that the local authority will change its mind.

Internal informal reconsideration

If there appears to be a fundamental flaw or defect in the decision of the local authority, the applicant could request the authority to informally reconsider that decision.

This should not be done in place of formally requesting an internal review in all situations. If the authority agrees to carry out an informal reconsideration, it should cancel its original decision, otherwise a review must be requested within 21 days of the decision.

Changes in circumstances

After an application has been made, there may be changes in a homeless applicant's circumstances. For example, a local connection may develop or a change in household size may occur.

If the decision has not yet been made, the new facts should be made known to the authority so that they can be considered.

If a decision letter has already been issued[1] and if the new facts would be likely to affect the outcome, the new facts should be put to the authority in the course of a statutory review.

Sometimes, however, it is too late for the new facts to be considered. That will arise if the applicant is out of time to seek a review, or out of time to appeal a reviewed decision, or if the new facts arise after a review has already been carried out. In such cases a fresh homelessness application needs to be made based on the new facts and based on a change in circumstances.

Application by another person

In cases of intentional homelessness, as well as the applicant requesting a review of the original adverse decision, there is nothing to prevent another member of a household submitting their own application to the local authority. The application must be investigated in the usual way.

In some cases, the court has decided that the wife of an applicant had not become homeless intentionally, even though the applicant was found to be intentionally homeless. Therefore, the authority had a duty to provide accommodation for the wife and her family, including the husband.[2] However, an adverse decision may be made if the authority can show that the second applicant acquiesced in the original applicant's actions.[3]

The approach is different in a situation where the authority already ended its duty, for example by making a suitable offer that was refused by the applicant. In such a case, in the absence of a change of circumstances, the authority is not under a duty to entertain applications from different members of the same household.[4]

Application to another local authority

As well as requesting a review of the original decision, it is generally possible for applicants to apply to more than one authority.

The second authority should make its own inquiries. A person who is found to be intentionally homeless in one authority can apply to another authority and be found not intentionally homeless and be referred back to the original authority for rehousing under the local connection rules. When the second authority makes its decision on the application, it must take account of the reasons for the decision previously reached by the original authority.[5] However, if even in doing so it comes to a different decision, it may challenge that second authority only by way of judicial review.[6]

Although it is normally possible for a person to 'hop' from one authority to another, this is not possible where the first authority has made a reasonable offer of accommodation to discharge a duty that has not been accepted by the applicant.[7]

Complaining to the Ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) can investigate cases of injustice caused through maladministration in connection with actions or inactions by a local authority.

In one case, the local authority failed to notify the applicant of its decision to accept a full housing duty under the homelessness legislation, forced the applicant to accept an offer of unaffordable accommodation and subsequently removed him from social housing waiting list. The Ombudsman recommended the authority rectified the injustice by compensating the applicant and awarding him the highest priority on the waiting list for all eligible properties.[8] In another case, where the local authority refused to accept a homeless application from a survivor of domestic violence, apart from awarding financial compensation, the Ombudsman recommended the authority provided training to its staff in when a homeless application should be accepted.[9]

Last updated: 22 March 2021


  • [1]

    s.184 Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    R v Eastleigh BC ex parte Beattie (No.2) (1985) 17 HLR 168, QBD; R v West Dorset DC ex parte Phillips (1985) 17 HLR 336, QBD.

  • [3]

    R v Swansea CC ex parte John (1982) 9 HLR 56, QBD; R v Ealing LBC ex parte Salmons (1991) 23 HLR 272, QBD.

  • [4]

    R v Camden LBC ex parte Hersi [2000] CA, Legal Action October 2000; (2001) 33 HLR 114 QBD.

  • [5]

    R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex parte Camden LBC (1988) 21 HLR 197, QBD; R v Newham LBC ex parte Tower Hamlets LBC (1991) 23 HLR 62, CA;.

  • [6]

    R v Tower Hamlets LBC ex parte Camden LBC (1988) 21 HLR 197, QBD; R v Newham LBC ex parte Tower Hamlets LBC (1991) 23 HLR 62, CA.

  • [7]

    R v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC ex parte O'Brian (1985) 17 HLR 471, QBD.

  • [8]

    LGSCO complaint number 17 012 432 against Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.

  • [9]

    LGSCO complaint number 18 005 370 against Oadby and Wigston Borough Council.