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Homelessness: one suitable offer ends the duty

16.11.2020

When Bromley Council ended its duty to a homeless family after making a suitable offer it assumed that it would not be faulted for not having made any further offers.  But a County Court judge thought otherwise and quashed Bromley’s review decision that its duty had ceased.  The Court of Appeal allowed Bromley’s appeal on the grounds that the issue of suitability only needs to be considered once and that once a suitable offer has been made the duty can cease under the Housing Act 1996, s193(5).

Bromley accepted a full housing duty to Miss Broderick, who became homeless after fleeing domestic violence with her young child.  Due to a shortage of housing within the borough, Bromley, in accordance with its policy, offered Miss Broderick accommodation out-of-borough, in Gillingham.  After being given several opportunities to view the offer Miss Broderick refused it because she wanted to live in or nearer to Bromley.  The Council notified Miss Broderick that its duty had ceased, and she sought a statutory review, which the independent reviews officer, Mrs Kristine Ross, dismissed.

In the county court HHJ Lamb QC allowed Miss Broderick’s appeal on the grounds that Bromley should have considered making further offers of suitable accommodation during the six week period between its offer in December 2017 and Miss Broderick’s refusal at the end of January 2018.

The Court of Appeal allowed Bromley’s appeal on the basis that the issue of suitability ‘falls to be answered by reference to the circumstances at a specific point’.  Where an applicant has accepted an offer and asked for a review, the focus will be on the position when the review decision is made (Mohamed v Hammersmith & Fulham LBC [2001] UKHL 57 and Waltham Forest LBC v Saleh [2019] EWCA Civ 1944).  But where, as in this case, the applicant has refused the offer and the authority therefore ends its duty, the issue of suitability should be determined on the basis of the position at the date the offer was made (§§ 43, 46).

The Court rejected the argument that an authority is obliged to make further offers on two grounds.  First, that is not what the statute requires.  Secondly, it would be impractical and risked placing an intolerable burden on hard-pressed housing authorities. (§§ 44-45)

In conclusion, the Court of Appeal held that Mrs Ross’s reasons for finding the Gillingham offer suitable were ‘compelling’ and that there was no question of her having overlooked the importance of its location.  Indeed, the Court noted how ‘she addressed in detail both the accommodation that was available to the Council on the day it made its offer and Miss Broderick’s reasons for wishing to be closer to Bromley.’ (§47)

Although not central to the judgment, the Court also noted ‘that the matters that a review decision must address will be shaped to an extent by what has been raised in the course of the review’ (§32).

Bromley LBC v Broderick [2020] EWCA Civ 1522

Jon Holbrook was instructed by Legal Services, Bromley LBC.