Suitability of homelessness accommodation
Any accommodation offered, secured or provided by a local authority under a homelessness duty must be suitable.
Requirement that accommodation be suitable
Any accommodation secured under the provisions of Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 must be suitable. This applies whether the accommodation is secured under a duty or a discretionary power, and includes interim accommodation secured under section 188.
Accommodation can be unsuitable for any number of reasons, including:
physical condition of the accommodation
risk of violence from any person
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. 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
Accommodation provided as part of the homelessness duties must be suitable from the start. In one case, the High Court held that the local authority’s policy of placing families owed the main housing duty in unsuitable temporary accommodation with a view to move them into suitable accommodation at a later date was unlawful.
Where the local authority has breached its duty to provide suitable accommodation to a homeless applicant, it may be possible to apply for a judicial review compelling the authority to provide suitable accommodation. The court will examine the individual circumstances of each case, including the impact of the living conditions, before deciding whether to grant a mandatory order.
Covid-19 and suitability of accommodation
Any accommodation provided under the homelessness legislation must be suitable but the case law on the specific impact of the pandemic on suitability is limited. In one case concerning interim accommodation, the High Court held that where a local authority had provided self-contained accommodation to a homeless applicant who was particularly vulnerable to contracting Covid-19, it was under no obligation to provide white goods and a bed. In this case, the claimant was provided with a mattress and a microwave oven but argued that it was insufficient to enable them to self-isolate. The Court dismissed this argument and held that the authority had acted lawfully.
Suitability over time
The suitability of accommodation is to be looked at over time and will depend upon the applicant's individual circumstances. The suitability of accommodation can change over time and somewhere that may be suitable for occupation for a short period, while the authority is looking for alternative accommodation, may be unsuitable if it is to be occupied for a longer period. This is not the same as saying that there is a general lower standard of suitability for temporary accommodation.
In one case, the High Court found that where the local authority’s review letter had specifically said that after considering the relevant law, guidance, and the applicant’s circumstances, it had found the temporary accommodation provided to be unsuitable, the authority could not later argue that the decision was to be read as meaning the accommodation was suitable in the short-term.
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 or characteristic
accommodation needs arising from her/his impairments or protected characteristic
that such an applicant might be required to be treated more favourably than applicants without impairments or 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. 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.
Circumstances of applicant and household
The accommodation must be suitable for the applicant and all members of their household who reside with them, or might reasonably be expected to reside with them.
Until such time as the local authority's duty is finally ended, it has a continuing obligation to keep the suitability of accommodation under review and 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.
An overall or composite view is required, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
Last updated: 8 June 2021
s.206(1) Housing Act 1996.
s.210(2) Housing Act 1996.
s.182 Housing Act 1996. See Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, February 2018.
R (on the application of Elkundi & Ors) v Birmingham City Council  EWHC 1024 (Admin)
see, for example R (M) v London Borough of Newham  EWHC 327 Admin and R (Imam) v The London Borough of Croydon  EWHC 739 (Admin).
R (on the application of Escott) v Chichester DC  EWHC 1687 (Admin).
Birmingham CC v Ali and others  UKHL 36; Temur v Hackney LBC  EWCA Civ 877.
Birmingham CC v Ali and others  UKHL 36; Kannan v Newham LBC  EWCA Civ 57; Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC  HLR 1.
see, for example Anon v Lewisham LBC, Central London County Court, 5 July 2018 (non-binding County Court case).
R (M) v Newham LBC  EWHC 327 (Admin).
Hackney LBC v Haque  EWCA Civ 4.
Kannan v Newham LBC  EWCA Civ 57.
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.
Muse v Brent LBC  EWCA Civ 1447; R v Westminster CC ex p Zaher  EWHC 101 (Admin); paras 17.7, 17.8 and 17.10 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.
R v Lewisham LBC ex p Dolan (1993) 25 HLR 68, QBD; Hackney LBC v Haque  EWCA Civ 4.
Sharif v Camden LBC  UKSC 10.
s.11 Children Act 2004; Nzolameso v City of Westminster  UKSC 22.
R v Newham LBC ex p Begum (2000) 32 HLR 808, QBD.
Kannan v Newham LBC  EWCA Civ 57; Poshteh v Kensington and Chelsea RBC  UKSC 36; Nzolameso v City of Westminster  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  23 HLR 446.
R (on the application of Khan) v Newham LBC  EWHC 334 (Admin).
Kannan v Newham LBC  EWCA Civ 57.