Puhlhofer (A.P.) and another (A.P.) v London Borough of Hillingdon England

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Keith of Kinkel,Lord Roskill,Lord Brandon of Oakbrook,Lord Brightman,Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Judgment Date06 February 1986
Judgment citation (vLex)[1986] UKHL J0206-1
CourtHouse of Lords
Docket NumberParliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JU/18/246
Date06 February 1986
Puhlhofer (A.P.) and another (A.P.)
London Borough of Hillingdon England

[1986] UKHL J0206-1

Lord Keith of Kinkel

Lord Roskill

Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

Lord Brightman

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JU/18/246

House of Lords

Lord Keith of Kinkel

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of having read in draft the speech, to be delivered by my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman. I agree with it, and would dismiss the appeal for the reasons he gives.

Lord Roskill

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech to be delivered by my noble and learned friend, Lord Brightman. I agree with it and for the reasons he gives I would dismiss this appeal. I would like emphatically to endorse what my noble and learned friend has said about the misuse of the remedy of judicial review in cases where Parliament has entrusted the decision-making power to a public body save, of course, where that public body has acted in such a manner as to justify judicial intervention on one or more of the various grounds to which my noble and learned friend refers in his speech.

Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech prepared by my noble and learned friend, Lord Brightman. I agree with it, and for the reasons which he gives I would dismiss the appeal.

Lord Brightman

My Lords,


The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 is a part of the large volume of public housing legislation based on the Housing Act 1957 (now Part III of the Housing Act 1985 shortly to come into force). It has generated a mass of litigation, at the receiving end of which are local authorities endeavouring to cope with intractable housing problems and to balance competing claims to limited housing resources. The present appeal is the first case to reach your Lordships' House, or indeed the Court of Appeal, that is directly concerned with the meaning to be given in the Act to the word "accommodation," a word which is central to the operation of the Act and has a place in almost every section.


The statutory scheme is well known, and needs only a brief introduction. As Lord Wilberforce has pointed out, the Homeless Persons Act (as I will call it) imposed for the first time on a local housing authority a positive duty to accommodate homeless persons, as distinct from assisting them through welfare departments. Section 1 of the Act is a definition section. It defines when a person is "homeless" within the meaning of the Act. The key words are: "A person is homeless for the purposes of this Act if he has no accommodation, …" The section then sets out circumstances in which a person is to be treated as having no accommodation. These circumstances bring the homeless person's family within the shelter of the Act; a person is to be treated as having no accommodation if there is no accommodation which he, together with any other person who normally resides with him as a member of his family, is entitled to occupy. The second part of the section specifies when a person is to be treated as homeless although he has accommodation, e.g. if he cannot secure entry to it. There is also a definition of a person threatened with homelessness. This category of homeless person need not be distinguished for the purposes of the present appeal.


Section 2 in effect divides homeless persons into those who have and those who have not a priority need. The "priority need" class includes, for example, a person who has dependent children residing with him. Section 4 defines the principal duties of the local authority towards the homeless. There are three categories of homeless persons. The highest category, towards whom the local authority has the highest statutory duty, is the homeless person who has a priority need and who is not intentionally homeless. The duty of the local authority is "to secure that accommodation becomes available for his occupation." The next category is the homeless person who has a priority need but became homeless intentionally (as defined in section 17): In this case the duty of the local authority is twofold, to furnish him with advice and appropriate assistance, and to "secure that accommodation is made available for his occupation [including his family, per section 16] for such period as they consider will give him a reasonable opportunity of himself securing accommodation for his occupation." The third category is the homeless person


with no priority need, whether homeless intentionally or unintentionally. In this case the duty of the local authority is confined to furnishing advice and appropriate assistance. The duty of the local authority to secure that accommodation is made available to the homeless person is accordingly confined to the homeless person with a priority need: indefinite accommodation if not intentionally homeless, temporary accommodation if intentionally homeless.


It will be seen from a reading of the Act that it contains a statutory definition of "homeless" (section 1), "threatened with homelessness" (section 1), "priority need" (section 2), "accommodation … available for a person's occupation" (section 16), and "homeless intentionally" (section 17). There is no statutory definition of the word "accommodation" although it is a component of the meaning of each of these expressions. Nor is there any definition in the rest of the housing legislation; the different expression "housing accommodation" is used and defined, in different terms, in the Housing Acts of 1957 and 1974.


I turn to a brief narrative of the facts. The applicants are Mr. and Mrs. Puhlhofer, to whom I will refer as the husband and the wife. The wife, then unmarried, applied to the London borough of Hillingdon for assistance under the Act of 1977 in June 1983. She had a son born in April 1982 and was treated therefore as having a priority need. There was a dispute, irrelevant for present purposes, whether she was intentionally homeless. The local authority placed her in the Rosslyn Guest House, Harrow, used by the borough for homeless persons within their area. In July 1983 the husband, who was also homeless, applied to the borough for assistance. They introduced him by way of advice and appropriate assistance, to the same guest house. In September 1983 the husband and the wife married. In April 1984 a child was born of the marriage. In May 1984 the husband and the wife applied jointly to the borough for assistance under the Act. At that time they and the two children were in occupation of one room at the guest house, on a bed-and-breakfast basis. The applicants claimed that this room was not accommodation which answered the statutory duty of the borough under the Homeless Persons Act. The housing officer disagreed. He formally notified the husband and the wife by letter dated 11 May 1984 that they were not homeless or threatened with homelessness "because you have accommodation available for your occupation" at the guest house. The applicants were not satisfied with this answer and obtained leave to apply for judicial review of the local authority's decision. The relief sought by the applicants was an order of certiorari to quash the decision that they were neither homeless nor threatened with homelessness, and a declaration (so far as material) that "the accommodation available to the applicants is such that they are homeless" within the meaning of the Homeless Persons Act.


The applicants were at the date of the application in occupation of one room at the guest house containing a double and a single bed, a baby's cradle, dressing table, pram and steriliser unit. There were no cooking or washing facilities in the room. There were three bathrooms in the guest house, the total capacity of the guest house being 36 people or thereabouts. The applicants were in consequence compelled to eat out and to use a launderette


for washing their own and the children's clothing. This expense absorbed most of their state benefit of £78 a week.


It is the submission of the appellants that a person does not have "accommodation" within the meaning of the Act and is therefore "homeless," if he occupies premises which either are not large enough to accommodate the family unit, or lack the basic amenities of family life; such basic amenities should include not only sleeping facilities, but also cooking, washing and eating facilities. If the premises are deficient in any of these respects, they are not accommodation. The local authority have to take into account the size of the family, and whether the premises occupied are capable of being regarded as a "home" for that family. Put shortly, "accommodation" must provide the ordinary facilities of a residence. Therefore no local authority properly directing themselves could have formed the view that the room allotted to the applicants at the Rosslyn Guest House was "accommodation" within the meaning of section 1, at least after the child of the marriage was born in April 1984, because it was then overcrowded in the statutory sense, and lacked both exclusive and communal facilities for cooking and clothes washing. So ran the argument for the appellants.


Before turning to the judgments of the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal, it will be convenient to consider certain observations made in the Court of Appeal in Parr v. Wyre Borough Council (1982) 2 H.L.R. 71, which was decided on 3 February 1982. In that case a husband and wife, with five children, were desperate for accommodation. As a temporary expedient they acquired what was described as a motor caravanette, parked it on the promenade at Fleetwood, which was the husband's home town, and applied to the housing department for accommodation. The view taken by the housing officer was that they were not homeless because they had accommodation in keeping with their chosen...

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