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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Reasonable to occupy?

In the second of our articles on the grounds for homelessness appeals our solicitor, Carmel Ferguson, reflects on a recent case concerning a Housing Executive tenant who was a lone parent with three children; the youngest aged 8 months. The client believed that her accommodation was unsuitable for her and her household for a number of reasons, particularly:

  • it was overcrowded to such an extent that her teenage children of different genders had to share a room,
  • the accommodation was close in proximity to her violent ex partner, and
  • it was also close to the location of the suicide of a close family member.

On this basis, she presented to the Housing Executive as homeless. However, her application was refused on the grounds that it was reasonable for her to continue to occupy the accommodation.

How Housing Rights Service helped

The client came to Housing Rights Service for help. Our first action was to request a review of the homelessness decision. On review, the Housing Executive agreed that it was not reasonable for her to continue to occupy her home. However, they instead found that she was intentionally homeless because she was in rent arrears and a possession order had been granted by the court in respect of her home. Following the negative review, the only option for challenging the decision was to consider lodging an appeal to the county court. Any homeless appeal to the county court has to be based on a point of law.

Grounds for appeal

We believed that the client had two grounds on which to appeal the matter to the county court:

  1. “Minded to” letter - under the Homelessness (Review) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010, if the Housing Executive considers that there is a deficiency or irregularity in the original homelessness decision, or in the manner in which it was made, but is minded nonetheless to make a negative decision, (as happened in this case), the Housing Executive shall notify the applicant—

(a) that the Housing Executive is so minded and the reasons why, and
(b) that the applicant, or someone acting on his behalf, may make representations to the Housing Executive orally or in writing or both.

In this case, the Housing Executive had failed to notify the applicant of their intention to find her intentionally homeless and therefore appeared to be in breach of the Regulations

  1. Intentionality - although the client had significant rent arrears these were “historic” arrears which had accrued at the start of the tenancy when the client was experiencing family problems and was unaware of the requirements as regards to Housing Benefit applications. Significantly, she had already come to an arrangement with the Housing Executive to clear the arrears and it had been accepted that no enforcement would take place so long as the payments continued. Therefore, her tenancy was not at risk so long as she adhered to the agreement for repayments and so she had not made herself intentionally homeless.

Based on these arguments, we applied for Legal Aid to lodge the County Court appeal. This was later granted. After more detailed submissions had been served, setting out the grounds for the appeal, the Housing Executive agreed to withdraw the decision and to reconsider the matter.

A new decision letter was subsequently issued finding that the client was homeless and entitled to Full Duty Applicant status.

Comprehensive information on the process and grounds for homelessness appeals can be found in Chapter 10 of Housing Law in Practice NI.

Tagged In

Homelessness, Legal

This article was written on 28 August 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.