John Murray considers a recent case in which the Court reviewed London Borough of Haringey's assessment of a homelessness application.
Under s.189A of the Housing Act 1996, if a local housing authority are satisfied that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness, and eligible for assistance, the authority must make an assessment of the applicant’s case. “The authority’s assessment of the applicant’s case must include an assessment of:
- the circumstances that caused the applicant to become homeless or threatened with homelessness;
- the housing needs of the applicant including, in particular, what accommodation would be suitable for the applicant and any persons with whom the applicant resides or might reasonably be expected to reside (“other relevant persons”); and
- what support would be necessary for the applicant and any other relevant persons to be able to have and retain suitable accommodation.”
Furthermore, until such time as the authority consider that they no longer owe the applicant a duty under the Housing Act 1996, the authority must keep their assessment of the applicant’s case under review.
In XY v London Borough of Haringey [LBH], XY had lived in Enfield with her partner and her two children. However, XY was the victim of a knife attack by her partner and as a result, she made a homelessness application to LBH. LBH accepted that XY was homeless and eligible for assistance.
LBH was informed that XY was unable to live in Enfield due to the attack. It was also informed that, as a consequence of the injuries that XY had sustained, she was unable to grip properly. This made the use of stairs, when accompanied by her young children, unsafe. As a result, XY required a ground floor property or a property which contained a lift. LBH was also informed that XY’s parents provided XY and her children, who witnessed the attack and were showing early signs of PTSD, with significant support. Therefore, XY wished to live in close proximity to her parents.
Between December 2018 and July 2019, LBH carried out four assessments and reviews of XY’s application. However, XY challenged each of these assessments as being unlawful.
The Court held that the first assessment was inadequate because it did not identify or consider XY’s primary housing need of requiring a property in close proximity to her parents. It was also held that the second assessment carried out by LBH did not consider the key housing needs of XY either. It did not identify any of the needs of her children and did not explicitly state that XY needed to live in close proximity to her parents. Furthermore, the second and third assessments did not identify XY’s need for a ground floor property or a property with a lift. As a result, the first three assessments were held to be unlawful.
It was argued that the third assessment had also failed to consider XY’s difficulties in using public transport and, due to her weakened grip, her inability to safely wash her young children in a shower. She was only able to safely wash her children in a bath. However, it was held that LBH’s assessment only had to consider the fundamental needs of XY, of which she had informed LBH of. At the time of this assessment, the Court held that XY’s difficulties with public transport were not obvious from the information that LBH had been provided with and that the information regarding her weakened grip did not obviously lead to an inference that she would be unable to make use of a shower to wash her children.
Finally, it was held that the fourth assessment had adequately addressed all of XY’s fundamental needs. The Court stated that a housing officer would have had no doubt as to the location of the property required, the need for a ground floor property or property with a lift and her difficulties with public transport. As a result, the unlawfulness of the previous assessments had been rectified.
This judgment clearly illustrates the importance of considering, in detail, the housing needs of the applicant and any persons with whom the applicant resides or might reasonably be expected to reside. If the fundamental needs of the applicant are not considered, the Court may find that the assessment is unlawful. Although the fourth assessment did rectify the unlawfulness of the prior assessments, a local housing authority should ensure that it complies with its duties from the outset and that all assessments are lawful.