Haile V London Borough of Waltham Forest [2015] UKSC 34

01 Jan 2018

Housing, Public Law and Judicial Review

Fresh from the Judgment in Hotak v London Borough of Southwark; Kanu v London Borough of Southwark; Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30 last Wednesday the Supreme Court have today handed down another important Judgment in the homelessness field, this time on the question of intentionality. Matt Hutchings and Andy Lane consider the Judgment and its implications.

Whether the London Borough of Waltham Forest (“the Authority”) should have considered whether Ms Haile’s homelessness was intentional as at the date she became homeless or as at the date of the Authority’s decision.

The Judgment
By a majority of 4 to 1 the Supreme Court allowed Ms Haile’s appeal. The proper approach was to not only consider what caused the applicant to become homeless as at the time she departed the relevant accommodation, but also whether there was a “continuing causal connection” with her homelessness as at the date of the Authority’s decision. This was in accordance with the policy of Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 and in line with the reasoning of the majority in Din v Wandsworth London Borough Council [1983] AC 657.

Ms Haile was an assured shorthold tenant of room 708, Lea Bridge House, 497-501 Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London E10 (“the property”) with effect from 10 June 2010. She became pregnant in June 2011 and on 25 October 2011 moved out of the property to stay with a friend.

She approached the Authority’s Homeless Persons Unit on 11 November 2011, made a formal application as a homeless person later the same month and was informed that she was probably intentionally homeless. Meanwhile her friend required her to leave and the Authority provide her with interim accommodation.

Her reason for leaving the property was because of unpleasant smells though on 15 February 2012 she gave birth to a daughter, an event which would have prevented her from remaining in the property in any event. A formal decision was reached on 1 August 2012 and Ms Haile sought a review against the finding that she was intentionally homeless.

The Authority’s decision was upheld upon review on 31 January 2013 and Ms Haile’s section 204 appeal was rejected. She appealed to the Court of Appeal who heard the matter on 15 May 2014.

Court of Appeal Judgment
On 13 June 2014 the Court of Appeal dismissed Ms Haile’s appeal and in essence found that the House of Lords’ decision in Din was binding on them with the effect that the decision maker was required to consider whether homelessness was “intentional” as at the date when Ms Haile quit the property, not as at the date of the Authority’s decision.

This is an interesting judgment and the reasoning behind the successful appeal carefully explained by Lord Reed and Lord Neuberger. If nothing else, it shows the danger of not putting established authorities, such as Din, to careful analysis in the light of subsequent legal developments (see in particular paragraphs 12 to 16 of Lord Reed’s Judgment).

Thus, one difference this time around was that, meanwhile, in 2009 the House of Lords had reinterpreted the words “which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy” which form part of the definitions of homelessness and intentional homelessness, in Ali v Birmingham City Council [2009] UKHL 36; [2009] 1 WLR 1506 . Rather than meaning what was understood at the time the Din case was decided, reasonable for a few more days, in Ali it was held that these words looked to the future and meant reasonable to occupy on a long term basis.

So did this not open the door to Ms Haile to argue that the bed sitting room would have become unreasonable to occupy anyway, a variant on the Dins’ submission? The Supreme Court today decided that it did. But it went further.

Lord Reed, delivering the leading judgment, stated that the legislation posed two causation questions. First, what caused the applicant to cease to occupy the accommodation in question? Second, was that the cause of her current homelessness? This second question had to be implied, in order to avoid absurd consequences. Therefore, if a subsequent involuntary cause meant that the applicant would have become homeless anyway by the date of the decision, this was capable of breaking the chain of causation. On that basis, Ms Haile was not homeless intentionally. A single Justice, Lord Carnwarth, dissented.

Haile thus represents the third major shift in homelessness law fashioned by the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks, following Nzolameso and Hotak (suitability and priority need). Local authorities will need urgently to review their intentional homelessness decision making in the light of this latest judgment.