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Case report: Temporary accommodation, suitability and distance from children's school

The case of Anon v LB Lewisham clarifies that the standard of suitability of accommodation is not lower for temporary accommodation, and there is no distinct category of ‘temporary accommodation’ in the relevant legislation. A reviewing officer cannot use a lower threshold of suitability for temporary accommodation than more permanent accommodation. However, they can take into consideration the amount of time that will be spent in the accommodation in determining its suitability under the authority’s duty to homeless households.Victoria Taylor, a recent Queen's University Graduate who is currently undertaking an LLM in Human Rights and Criminal Justice and volunteering with Housing Rights, discusses the case. 

Background to the case

The appellant was a mother and carer of three children. The appellant approached the local authority and was given temporary accommodation pending the authority deciding whether or not they owed her the full housing duty. The local authority notified the appellant of its decision that she was owed the full housing duty and of its intention to secure suitable permanent housing for the family. This letter also mentioned a severe shortage of affordable rented properties in her area and advised her not to rely on the council’s housing register, suggesting that she should try to secure alternative accommodation. In the meantime, the appellant was to remain in the temporary accommodation. provided by the local authority. The temporary accommodation had multiple issues, including damp and mould which was detrimental to the appellant’s son’s eczema condition, lack of a bath which the appellant argued was also detrimental to his condition, and the temporary accommodation was far away from the children’s school. The appellant chose to leave the temporary accommodation provided to her, which led to the council's decision that their duty had been discharged, as the appellant had made herself intentionally homeless. 

County Court considerations

The Court dismissed all but one of the grounds of appeal. The appeal was allowed based on the distance between the temporary accommodation and the children’s school, which meant the accommodation could not be said to be suitable. On the issue of the son’s condition, the Court found that the mould and damp were not serious enough to be material to the issue of suitability and they found that there was an alternative way of treating the son’s condition that did not require a bath. This ground of appeal was therefore dismissed. The ground related to the threshold of suitability was also dismissed.

The appellant had argued that the reviewing officer of their case had wrongly created a category of temporary accommodation and, in doing so, applied a lesser standard to the question of suitability than he was entitled to do. However, the Court also said that it was relevant to consider the amount of time for which the accommodation was to be made available. This essentially means that although they cannot argue that because it is temporary accommodation, the standard of suitability can be lower, they can argue that the accommodation is only unsuitable for a long-term period and could be suitable for the purpose of providing accommodation for a shorter amount of time.  

This does not mean that there is a separate category of temporary accommodation, there is not, but it means that, when considering suitability, a local authority, or indeed a person to whom the duty is owed, can take into account the period of time within which that accommodation is going to be available. The question then, when looking at any particular review, is whether or not the correct question has been asked, that is, simply, “Is the accommodation suitable?”, and, within that, issues of duration or intended duration can be taken into account.

The Court found that the reviewing officer did not create a new category of temporary accommodation, he had just taken in to consideration the temporary nature of the accommodation.

Distance from school

The Court did, however, find that his assessment of suitability based on the distance from the children’s school was incorrect, making the point that although the reviewing officer may have felt that the 80 minute journey each way to school, involving multiple period of walking and several types of public transport, was reasonable for the school-going children to undertake twice a day, he had given no regard to the impact on the mother and youngest child of completing this journey four times every day. 

I also think that he did not give sufficient regard to the interests of the other two children and it is not just about whether or not they had been late on a few occasions and whether that had happened previously or otherwise, the issue is not that, the issue is the interests and needs of these children as they developed, and that needed to be seen in the context of this accommodation being available potentially for years, that being what was stated in the 29 September 2016 letter. A journey of this type of difficulty, going into the centre of London during very busy times for the transport system and then going out again to be able to get to the school, that difficulty of journey might well have been appropriate or manageable for a very short period of time; it becomes potentially less manageable and less appropriate as time goes on, and if it is intended that children are going to have that journey for a number of years, as they are starting at and then developing through their primary school years, then there needed to be express consideration of the difficulties, or potential difficulties, in relation to that, express consideration as to whether that was something that needed to be thought about further and they needed to be safeguarded in relation to the problems associated with that, both in terms of their development and in terms of their ability to have a fulfilling life within and without school as well, and I think the reviewer failed in that regard. And in that respect, which is essentially part of ground 3, but focusing on the children and the schooling issue, which involved the son as well, but that was ignored, the reviewer failed, and I will quash the decision on that basis

 

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Outside NI, Homelessness, Legal