Local Authorities are under an obligation, pursuant to s.206 of the Housing Act 1996 to ensure that accommodation offered under homelessness duty is suitable.
There is no definition of suitability. However, under s.210(1) Housing Act 1996, the consideration of suitability must focus on whether or not the accommodation is suitable for the particular person whom the local authority are looking to assist and the family members expected to live with that person. In R v Newham LBC, ex parte Sacupima (2001) 33 HLR 2, the Court of Appeal stated that there was no doubt that the question of whether or not the accommodation is suitable requires an assessment of all the qualities of the accommodation in the light of the needs and requirements of the homeless person and his or her family. It therefore follows that in order to discharge this duty, an authority must first carry out an assessment of the applicant’s requirements. The authority must then secure accommodation to comply with that assessment.
The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 1996 and Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 provide that the local authority must also consider the affordability of the accommodation and the financial resources of the appellant, as well as the significance of any disruption which would be caused by the location of the accommodation to the employment, caring responsibilities or education of the person or members of the person’s household.
Although the accommodation can be located anywhere in the country, as long as it is suitable, by virtue of s.208(1) of the Housing Act 1996, “so far as is reasonably practicable” the authority must secure accommodation in its own area.
In Barakate v LB Brent. County Court at Central London on 16 October 2016, the Court found that *“the concept of suitability can be seen to be not an absolute one, but a relative one, depending on the availability of something closer. This relative suitability must, as I see, have a further important consequence. As soon as one allows the test of suitability to include this relative element, it seems to me inescapable that in cases of far away placements, the test should also include some consideration of the timescale within which more suitable accommodation might be found”.
The case of Nzolameso v City of Westminster  UKSC 22 provided guidance on how local authorities should secure accommodation for applicants. The Court suggested that “It may also be acceptable to retain a few units, if it can be predicted that applicants with a particularly pressing need to remain in the borough will come forward in the relatively near future…..Ideally, each local authority should have, and keep up to date, a policy for procuring sufficient units of temporary accommodation to meet the anticipated demand during the coming year.”
Clients should be aware that s.193(5) Housing Act 1996 (as amended) states that, “The local housing authority shall cease to be subject to the duty under this section if – (a) the applicant, having been informed by the authority of the possible consequence of refusal or acceptance and of the right to request a review of the suitability of the accommodation, refuses an offer of accommodation which the authority are satisfied is suitable for the applicant, (b) that offer of accommodation is not an offer of accommodation under Part 6 or a private rented sector offer, and (c) the authority notify the applicant that they regard themselves as ceasing to be subject to the duty under this section.”
It is therefore very important that clients offered accommodation accept the offer so as to avoid the local authority discharging duty. There is an opportunity to seek a review of the suitability the offer, within 21 days of acceptance. This maintains accommodation for the client but allows them to the opportunity to be rehoused should the review be successful.
This blog has been prepared on 17th May 2018 by Ahmar Awan, a Solicitor at MTG Solicitors.