We have had a worrying increase in recent weeks of very urgent queries into our office from homeless families, often with young children, being refused emergency accommodation by local authorities. Such refusals put them at risk of rough sleeping and complete destitution and have a devastating impact on the families. The cases we have dealt with have mostly resolved quickly with our intervention but we are extremely concerned that other families may be affected and that local authorities in some instances are not meeting their legal obligations to these vulnerable families.
Our experience is that families when they present to the local authorities and are assessed and refused emergency accommodation, are not being provided with written reasons for their refusal often despite their asking in person for such written reasons. Failure to provide reasons for a decision on such a fundamental issue is in breach of their right to fair procedures. If given or ascertained by our office, the reasons for the refusals of emergency accommodation vary, and include: refusal on the basis of presentation to the wrong local authority and being referred to the local authority in the administrative area in which they were made homeless; refusal on the basis that the family have alternative accommodation available to them; refusal on the basis of what appears to be ‘intentional’ or ‘voluntary’ homelessness.
Definition of “homeless” and legal entitlements when a person is homeless
Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 sets out the conditions for deciding who qualifies as homeless. Under this Act, you will be regarded as homeless if:
- there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the local authority, you could reasonably occupy, and
- in the opinion of the local authority, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.
This definition covers both you and anyone else who normally lives with you or might reasonably be expected to live with you. You will also be regarded as homeless if you live in a hospital, county home, night shelter or similar institution because you have no other accommodation and, again in the local authority’s opinion, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.
Section 10 of the 1988 empowers the local authority to provide accommodation to a homeless person or provide financial support for a homeless person to source accommodation (known as the self-accommodation option). There is a statutory entitlement to a housing assessment that extends to an assessment as to whether or not you are homeless.
Representing families who the Council has unlawfully refused to recognise as homeless – an alarming increase in such cases
In the cases we have dealt with, we have corresponded with the local authority and sought written reasons for their decision. Our experience is that families are provided with emergency accommodation shortly after we have got involved and before a substantive response is received to our correspondence. This is obviously an enormous relief to the families, who nonetheless face a lengthy stay in a hotel before securing any longer-term accommodation.
These types of cases are new to our office and we are alarmed by the number of cases that we are seeing. While we are pleased to have secured positive outcomes for these families at a very early stage, it is a concern that these cases are arising in the first place and we hope that these incidences will not form a recurring pattern in our casework.
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