Causal links in intentional homelessness

There must be a causal link between a deliberate act or omission and the loss of accommodation for an applicant to be intentionally homeless.

This content applies to England

Local authority investigations

When determining whether an applicant became homeless intentionally, the local authority must consider if:[1]

  • the applicant did or failed to do anything which caused them to lose accommodation that it was reasonable for them to continue to occupy at the time they left 

  • the applicant's homelessness at the time of the authority's decision was caused by that deliberate act or omission, or whether a later intervening event constituting an involuntary cause of homelessness meant that they would have become homeless anyway by the time of the decision on their application

Where there is more than one possible cause of homelessness, it is for the local authority to decide whether at least one of them was a deliberate act or omission on the part of the applicant.[2]

Reasonable result of deliberate act

The court has held that there must have been a reasonable likelihood that the act or omission would lead to homelessness and the consequences must not be too remote from the action.[3]

The Homelessness Code of Guidance says that the authority must decide whether the loss of the home was the reasonably likely result of a deliberate act or omission, and whether or not it is a matter of cause and effect.[4]

If there is no clear connection, it would be inappropriate to see the applicant as intentionally homeless. For example, if an employee in tied accommodation lied to their employers, was sacked and therefore lost their accommodation, the local authority could find them intentionally homeless only if it is satisfied that they must have known the consequences of their action.[5]

Start of chain of causation

The authority may look back beyond the incident that was the immediate cause of homelessness to see what was the start of the chain of events which led to the homelessness.[6] This means that the most recent action may not be treated as the deliberate act in question.

In one case a drug-dealer was sent to prison, and despite making arrangements for his sister to pay his rent, she failed to pay anything and he lost his home through the failure to pay. The court did not accept the argument that the breakdown of the arrangement to pay rent was the cause of the homelessness. It held that the start of the chain of events was his decision to supply drugs and his ignorance of the fact that his sister was not paying the rent was irrelevant. However, the court conceded the outcome might possibly have been different had the arrangement for rent payments taken effect for at least some period of time and then subsequently broken down.[7]

The authority can consider whether there is any intentional homelessness from any of the accommodation which the applicant has lived in, from the most recent accommodation and then going back to the last 'settled' accommodation. The Code gives an example of someone who voluntarily gives up settled accommodation which it is reasonable for them to continue to occupy, moves into short term accommodation and then becomes homeless when the term ends. It says that authorities therefore need to look back to the last period of settled accommodation and the reasons why the applicant left that accommodation.[8]

A homeless applicant can be found intentionally homeless from temporary accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation. It has been confirmed that where an applicant is evicted from temporary accommodation as a result of their refusal to accept an offer of alternative accommodation (either to other temporary accommodation or to settled accommodation), they may be found intentionally homeless on a subsequent application for assistance under Part 7.[9] Nevertheless, if the accommodation is so precarious that throughout their residence the applicant could be considered to be threatened with homelessness, then they cannot be found intentionally homeless from that accommodation. [10]

Breaking the chain of causation

The applicant's deliberate act or omission must still be the cause of the applicant's homelessness at the time of the authority's decision on their homeless application or, if applicable, its review decision.

The chain of causation can only be broken by:[11]

  • a material change of circumstances

  • occupation of settled accommodation

Material change of circumstances

An involuntary event occurring after the applicant left their accommodation can break the chain of causation where they would have become homeless in any event.

In a case considered by the Supreme Court, the applicant had voluntarily left a single persons' hostel when pregnant. However she had given birth by the time of the authority's decision into her homelessness application, which meant that she would undeniably have been evicted from the hostel by that time. As such the applicant was not intentionally homeless.[12] This is sometimes referred to as a 'supervening event'.

In a Court of Appeal decision, the Court examined the chain of causation where there were numerous factors contributing to homelessness.[13] A former council tenant exercised the right to buy despite having a history of rent arrears and other debt. When she later fell into arrears after her husband lost his job, the Court held that the chain of causation had not been broken by the husband being unable to work. The applicant's financial history meant that it was inevitable that she would fall into mortgage arrears. It was appropriate for the council to consider all the facts, including the situation prior to the property being purchased. The couple should never have bought the property.

Settled accommodation

The chain of causation can be broken if the applicant secures settled accommodation, becomes homeless and makes a fresh homeless application. 

There is no definition of settled accommodation in the Housing Act 1996. There have been a number of court cases on the issue.[14] Whether accommodation is settled is a question of 'fact and degree' and depends on the individual circumstances of each case.[15]

Factors that are relevant include:[16]

  • length of occupation

  • security of tenure

  • intentions of the parties

  • how 'precarious' the occupation is, for example whether there is a constant threat of eviction

Local authorities must consider all relevant factors in each case.[17]

Where the tenancy is assured shorthold

Although a private sector assured shorthold tenancy would generally constitute settled accommodation, there are circumstances in which a person holding such a tenancy could still be precariously housed, for example a case where an assured shorthold tenant was expressly informed at the outset that her tenancy would not be continued after six months.[18]

Intention of the parties

In one case, the court held that the issue was not whether the parties had initially intended a temporary or permanent arrangement but whether, as the months and years passed, what started out as 'unsettled' developed 'settled' characteristics.[19]

Length of time in 'precarious' accommodation

There is no particular period of time after which temporary (or unsettled) accommodation becomes settled. The applicant needs to establish they had a period of occupation, under either a licence or a tenancy, which has at the outset or during its term a real prospect of continuation for a significant or indefinite period of time. 

The Court of Appeal has found that settled accommodation was not established where an applicant:

  • remained as a licensee in temporary accommodation because an administrative error by the local authority meant it did not take any steps to evict him for over two years[20]

  • lived as a licensee (paying rent) in an employer’s home for two years, when at all times it was understood the applicant would leave when the employer’s son returned from university and that he would vacate the room for the times when the son came home during the holidays[21]

Overcrowding

Overcrowded accommodation can be settled. The local authority must consider all relevant factors and not treat overcrowding as an automatic indicator of the accommodation not being settled.[22]

Violence

Where an applicant has lost (or may lose) their home because there is a probability of violence if they had continued to occupy it, they may be offered help to mitigate the risk of violence. If this is turned down, the authority is not entitled to conclude that the help to mitigate the violence would have been successful.

It is therefore the violence that is the cause of homelessness, not the applicant's decision not to accept help. A refusal should not lead to a decision of intentional homelessness.[23]

Ex-offenders

Where an applicant has spent a period in custody, during which they lost their accommodation, the authority must look at whether, taking into account all of the circumstances, the loss of accommodation could reasonably been regarded as a likely consequence of committing the offence.[24]

The Court of Appeal held that an applicant was intentionally homeless where they had committed offences of theft and later moved house, then lost that house as a result of the conviction. The house move was not relevant and the applicant had deliberately engaged in conduct which had the effect of depriving them of the right to occupy premises.[25]

Ex-service personnel

Ex-service personnel should not be considered intentionally homeless if they have had to vacate service quarters upon taking up an option to give notice to leave the service, where they have done so in compliance with their contractual engagement.[26]

Care leavers

The Code of Guidance advises that local authorities should try to avoid making intentionally homeless decisions in relation to care leavers aged 18 to 25.[27]

Before making a decision, the authority should consult with the relevant children's services to understand the young person's emotional and mental well being, maturity and general ability to understand the impact of their actions.

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references here are to this Code.

For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

Last updated: 17 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    Haile v Waltham Forest LBC [2015] UKSC 34.

  • [2]

    Noel & Anor v Hillingdon LBC [2013] EWCA Civ 1602.

  • [3]

    R v Hounslow, ex parte R (1997) 29 HLR 939, QBD.

  • [4]

    para 9.13 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [5]

    R v Thanet DC, ex parte Reeve (1981) 6 HLR 31, QBD.

  • [6]

    Steward v Kingston upon Thames LBC [2007] EWCA Civ 565.

  • [7]

    Stewart v Lambeth LBC [2002] EWCA Civ 753.

  • [8]

    para 9.13 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [9]

    Godson v Enfield LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 486; R v Brent LBC, ex parte Awua (1995) 27 HLR 453, HL.

  • [10]

    R v Brent LBC, ex parte Awua (1995) 27 HLR 453, HL.

  • [11]

    R v Harrow LBC, ex parte Fahia (1998) 30 HLR 1124, HL; R v Hackney LBC, ex parte Ajayi (1998) 30 H.L.R. 473 ; R v Brighton BC, ex parte Harvey (1997) 30 HLR 670, QBD; R v Basingstoke and Deane BC, ex parte Bassett (1983) 10 HLR 125, QBD.

  • [12]

    Haile v Waltham Forest LBC [2015] UKSC 34; see also para 9.14 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [13]

    Watchman v Ipswich BC [2007] EWCA Civ 348.

  • [14]

    Din v Wandsworth LBC [1983] 1 AC 657; R v Winchester CC, ex parte Ashton (1991) 24 HLR 48, QBD; R v Kyle and Carrick DC, ex parte Robson [1993] Court of Session, Legal Action March 1994; R v Rochester CC, ex parte Williams (1994) 26 HLR 588, QBD.

  • [15]

    Din v Wandsworth LBC [1983] 1 AC 657; Kaltun Bullale v City of Westminster Council [2020] EWCA Civ 1587, paras 21-26.

  • [16]

    para 9.15 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [17]

    Kaltun Bullale v City of Westminster Council [2020] EWCA Civ 1587.

  • [18]

    Knight v Vale RBC [2003] EWCA Civ 1258.

  • [19]

    Cross v Solihull MBC [2000] Birmingham County Court, Legal Action August 2000.

  • [20]

    Huda v Redbridge LBC [2016] EWCA Civ 709.

  • [21]

    Doka v Southwark LBC [2017] EWCA Civ 1532.

  • [22]

    Kaltun Bullale v City of Westminster Council [2020] EWCA Civ 1587.

  • [23]

    paras 21.28 to 21.30 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [24]

    paras 23.21 and 23.22 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [25]

    Minchin v Sheffield City Council [2000] JHL D49, CA.

  • [26]

    para 24.11 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [27]

    para 22.17 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.