Suitability of homelessness accommodation

Accommodation offered, secured or provided by a local authority under a homelessness duty must be suitable. 

This content applies to England

When the suitability test applies

Accommodation offered or secured by a local authority while carrying out homelessness duties under 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.

The duty on a local authority to provide suitable accommodation for a homeless person and their family while it carries out enquiries is immediate, non-deferrable and unqualified.[2] However, performance of that duty will necessarily take some time.[3]

Accommodation must be suitable for the homeless person and their household when deciding if someone became homeless intentionally and whether accommodation is reasonable to continue to occupy.

When the local authority assesses the suitability of accommodation for a person and their family, the key factors to consider are:[4]

  • the needs and circumstances of the household

  • the location of accommodation

  • whether the accommodation is affordable

  • type of accommodation and standards

Different suitability requirements apply to offers of interim accommodation and settled accommodation in discharge of the prevention, relief or main housing duty.

Find out more about duties and offers of accommodation in homelessness application.

Suitability of temporary accommodation

Good Practice Guide for local authorities issued by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in relation to unsuitable temporary accommodation highlights that authorities must:

  • keep the suitability of temporary accommodation under review

  • ensure decisions that a property is suitable are communicated in writing and set out the statutory right to request a review under section 202 of the Housing Act 1996

  • be able to evidence the efforts made to secure suitable alternative accommodation

  • consider steps to limit the impact of unsuitable accommodation on households waiting to move

  • have written policy or procedures in place to manage transfers to other accommodation, and differentiate between situations where the authority is in breach of the statutory duty to provide suitable accommodation and those where the move is otherwise considered necessary

  • have regard to individual cases needs when prioritising applicants for a move

  • investigate complaints about delays in providing suitable accommodation and consider both maladministration and service failure

  • remedy any injustice caused by fault

The guide sets out relevant law and guidance about temporary accommodation and the role of the Ombudsman in dealing with complaints.

Households needs and circumstances

The accommodation must be suitable for the homeless person and all members of their household who reside with them, or might reasonably be expected to reside with them.[5]

Local authorities are required to assess whether accommodation is suitable for each member of the household individually. This requires an assessment of all aspects of the accommodation in the light of the relevant needs, requirements and circumstances of the homeless person and their family.

Local authority records should demonstrate that it has considered all the relevant statutory requirements.

Find out more about relevant circumstances of the homeless person and household

Location and offers out of area

As far as reasonably practicable a local authority should secure accommodation in its own area.[6] Where this is not possible it must try to place the homeless household as close as possible to where they were previously living.[7]

Local authorities might offer households accommodation outside the local authority area and away from where the person would like to live. When assessing the suitability of out of area accommodation the local authority must consider:

  • the effect of disruption to the household’s employment or access to essential health facilities

  • the welfare of any children and the potential disruption to education and support networks

  • any risk of violence for the person or any member of their household

  • any risk of domestic abuse which might require gender specific accommodation in a secret location

Find out more about suitability and location of accommodation.

Costs and affordability of accommodation

Accommodation must be affordable to be suitable.

The household should be able to afford the costs of accommodation from their residual income after essential expenses, such as reasonable living costs and child support payments. 

A person can submit a detailed financial statement as part of their written submissions to challenge the suitability of accommodation based on affordability. They should explain any excessive or unusually high expenditure, for example where expenditure is higher due to the additional costs of living with a disability. 

Find out more about affordability and costs of accommodation.

Accommodation type and standards

As a minimum, any accommodation must be free from category 1 hazards and be fit for human habitation. The local authority does not have to carry out a full inspection. It can decide if an inspection is necessary based on the available evidence.

Even if the accommodation is in serious disrepair, the local authority might reasonably take the view that measures like carrying out repairs could make a property suitable.

The local authority must consider the specific needs of those with disabilities or serious health conditions when assessing the suitability of accommodation.

What is considered suitable accommodation to comply with interim accommodation duties might be different from suitable accommodation offered in discharge of the main housing duty. [8]

Find out more about suitability of bed and breakfast accommodation and requirements for refugees and other emergency accommodation.

Enhanced suitability for private rented sector offers

If the local authority makes an offer of accommodation in the private rented sector, an enhanced suitability test applies. Before making the offer, the local authority must be satisfied that the proposed private landlord has complied with various requirements and that:

  • the accommodation is in a reasonable physical condition

  • any electrical equipment provided complies with electrical safety regulations

  • reasonable precautions to ensure fire safety and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning have been taken

  • there is a current gas safety record

  • there is a valid energy performance certificate

  • if the accommodation is a house in multiple occupation (HMO), it is duly licensed

  • the landlord has provided the local authority with a copy of the written tenancy agreement to be used, and the local authority is satisfied it is adequate

  • the landlord is a 'fit and proper person'

Find out more about suitability of private rented sector accommodation.

Local authority limited resources

When assessing what accommodation is suitable for a household, 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 homeless people. They can also consider the housing conditions in the locality.[9]

While a limited number of suitable properties available may be relevant in assessing whether a local authority has taken all reasonable steps to comply with accommodation duty, once the authority has decided that accommodation is unsuitable a lack of resources cannot be relied on as a defence.[10]

Suitability over time

The suitability of accommodation is to be looked at over time and depends on the person's individual circumstances.[11]

The suitability of accommodation can change over time. Somewhere might be suitable for occupation for a short period while the authority is looking for alternative accommodation. The same accommodation might not be suitable if it is to be occupied for a longer period.[12] This does not mean that there is a general lower standard of suitability for temporary accommodation.[13]

Where a local authority’s review letter said that after considering the relevant law, guidance, and the person’s circumstances, it had found the temporary accommodation was unsuitable, the authority could not later argue that the decision was to be read as meaning the accommodation was suitable in the short-term.[14]

In one case, a local authority identified in an applicant's housing register application that the household needed a three bedroom level-access property, but they remained in two bedroom temporary accommodation with stairs for another 14 months, and for three years and eight months in total. The authority was found to be in breach of the main housing duty as any short or medium term for which the accommodation could have been suitable had passed.[15]

Reasonableness over time

Reasonable to continue to occupy is to be looked at over time. A person can be statutorily homeless and it could be reasonable for them to remain where they are for the short or medium term, while the local authority takes steps to secure other accommodation. How long is reasonable for them to remain depends on the person's particular circumstances.[16]

The local authority should look ahead to the foreseeable future as well as the present situation. If the accommodation is unreasonable to occupy over the medium to long term the authority must consider how long in the short term it is reasonable for the person to remain.[17]

How to challenge suitability decisions

It is usually in the person’s best interests to accept the offer and request a suitability review.

A person can request an internal review of an authority's offer of temporary or permanent accommodation.

A person does not have a statutory right to an internal review of the suitability of interim accommodation offered by a local authority while carrying out homelessness inquiries. The suitability of interim accommodation can only be challenged by way of judicial review.

Find out more about challenges to accommodation suitability.

Last updated: 28 November 2023

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.206(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [2]

    R (Elkundi) v Birmingham CC [2022] EWCA Civ 601; R (B) v Redbridge LBC [2019] EWHC 250 (Admin).

  • [3]

    R (Imam) v London Borough of Croydon [2023] UKSC 45.

  • [4]

    s.182 Housing Act 1996; Ch. 17 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, February 2018.

  • [5]

    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.

  • [6]

    s.208(1) Housing Act 1996.

  • [7]

    para 17.51 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [8]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others : Moran v Manchester CC [2009] UKHL 36.

  • [9]

    Poshteh v Kensington and Chelsea RBC [2017] UKSC 36; Nzolameso v City of Westminster [2015] UKSC 22; Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57; R v Newham LBC ex parte Sacupima (2000) 33 HLR 1, QBD; 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.

  • [10]

    R (Imam) v The London Borough of Croydon [2022] EWCA Civ 601.

  • [11]

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

  • [12]

    Birmingham CC v Ali and others [2009] UKHL 36; Kannan v Newham LBC [2019] EWCA Civ 57; Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire DC [2005] HLR 1; R (on the application of Elkundi & Ors) v Birmingham City Council [2022] EWCA Civ 601; Coleman v Harrow LBC, 4 May 2023, Administrative Court, London, David Pittaway KC (unreported).

  • [13]

    see, for example Anon v Lewisham LBC, Central London County Court, 5 July 2018 (non-binding County Court case).

  • [14]

    R (M) v Newham LBC [2020] EWHC 327 (Admin).

  • [15]

    Jaberi, R (On the Application Of) v City of Westminster (Re Housing Act 1996) [2023] EWHC 1045 (Admin).

  • [16]

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

  • [17]

    Safi v Sandwell BC [2018] EWCA Civ 2876.