R v Harrow London Borough Council, ex parte Fahia

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLORD BROWNE-WILKINSON,LORD MUSTILL,LORD NOLAN,LORD CLYDE,LORD HUTTON
Judgment Date23 July 1998
Judgment citation (vLex)[1998] UKHL J0723-1
Date23 July 1998

[1998] UKHL J0723-1

HOUSE OF LORDS

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Mustill

Lord Nolan

Lord Clyde

Lord Hutton

Regina
and
London Borough of Harrow
(Appellants)
Ex Parte Fahia
(Respondent)
LORD BROWNE-WILKINSON

My Lords,

1

This appeal again raises the problems which confront a local authority when dealing with the long term homeless. When a local authority has lawfully found an individual to be intentionally homeless, what are the statutory duties of that local authority when the same individual again applies to be housed as a homeless person?

2

At all times relevant to this appeal, the statutory duties relating to homeless persons were contained in Part III of the Housing Act 1985. In outline the statutory scheme provides as follows. Under section 62(1) if an applicant applies to a local authority for accommodation and the authority has reason to believe that he may be "homeless or threatened with homelessness" they must make such inquiries as are necessary to satisfy themselves as to whether he is homeless or threatened with homelessness. Section 58(1) defines a person as being homeless if he has no "accommodation" and provides that a person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days.

3

If, as a result of those inquiries under section 62(1) the local authority is satisfied that an applicant is homeless or threatened with homelessness, section 62(2) imposes further statutory duties of inquiry, viz., to satisfy themselves whether the applicant has a priority need and whether the applicant became homeless intentionally. Nothing turns on the requirement of priority need in this case: the applicant had dependent children and therefore has priority need. Intentional homelessness, however, is central to the case. Section 60(1) provides that a person becomes homeless intentionally "if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy."

4

Whilst the local authority is conducting these inquiries it comes under an interim duty to provide accommodation to the applicant: section 63.

5

Having completed their inquiries, the local authority is required to notify the applicant of their conclusions: section 64. So far as relevant to the present case, the local authority has to notify the applicant of their decision whether he is homeless; if so, whether he has a priority need and, if so, whether he became homeless intentionally. Having reached their conclusions on these matters the statutory duties imposed on the local authority depend upon the conclusions which they have reached. These statutory duties are laid down in section 65 of the Act. If the applicant is homeless, has a priority need and is not intentionally homeless, the local authority must secure that accommodation becomes available for his occupation: subsection (2). But if the local authority is satisfied that the applicant, despite having a priority need, became homeless intentionally the only duty imposed on the local authority is to provide accommodation "for his occupation for such period as they consider will give him a reasonable opportunity of securing accommodation for his occupation" and provide him with advice: see subsection (3).

6

In the present case, Mrs. Fahia and her six children were, on 29 March 1994, evicted from 51A Tudor Road, Harrow, which she had occupied pursuant to an assured shorthold tenancy. Her landlord had obtained a possession order. Upon her eviction, Mrs. Fahia applied to the London Borough of Harrow ("Harrow") for accommodation pursuant to Part III of the Act. Pending the determination of her application she was placed in temporary accommodation at the Hindes Guest House pursuant to section 63 of the Act. On 6 June 1994, Harrow notified the applicant of their decision that they were satisfied that she was homeless, was in priority need but was homeless intentionally ("the 1994 determination").

7

In the light of that determination, Harrow's duty under section 65(3) was to secure that accommodation was made available to Mrs. Fahia for such period as would give her a reasonable opportunity of securing accommodation for her own occupation. It discharged its duty by continuing to pay for her accommodation at the guest house for a further 42 days, i.e. until 17 July 1994.

8

On 17 July 1994, Mrs. Fahia did not vacate the guest house but remained there. The weekly rent payable for the accommodation she occupied was £514. Harrow continued to pay the weekly rent for a further period of a year, such payment being payment of housing benefit to Mrs. Fahia.

9

On 14 July 1995 Harrow wrote to Mrs. Fahia informing her that, having compared the rent payable at the guest house with other rents, they had decided that the applicant's housing benefit should be reduced to £250 per week. On 9 August 1995 the proprietor of the guest house warned Mrs. Fahia that if she could not pay the standard charge for her accommodation, she would have to vacate her rooms.

10

On 17 August 1995 a charity wrote to Harrow asking it to arrange accommodation for Mrs. Fahia and her family. On 21 August 1995 Harrow responded by saying that if Mrs. Fahia were to come to the Homeless Persons Unit there would be no duty on Harrow to assess any application made by her. The letter went on to explain:

"This is because she has had no intervening settled accommodation to bring her original homelessness from 51A Tudor Road to an end. We would make an assessment of an application only if there had been a material change of circumstances or some new relevant fact has come to light since our decision of June 1994. As far as I am aware no such changes have taken place nor has there been any other new relevant facts coming to light."

11

Following a visit by Mrs. Fahia to the Homelessness Officer, on 5 September 1995 Harrow wrote to her as follows:

"Further to our meeting of 31 August 1995, I write to notify you of the decision reached by the Authority on your 'reapplication' for housing.

"Having completed its non-statutory inquiries (that is inquiries undertaken other than under the Housing Act 1985) the Authority is satisfied that given the nature of your stay at Hindes Guest House this accommodation did not constitute settled intervening accommodation so as to break your original homelessness from 51A Tudor Road. Therefore the decision of 6 June 1994, that you are intentionally homeless, still stands and the Authority owes you no duty to provide you with accommodation."

12

Mrs. Fahia then applied for judicial review of the decision of Harrow not to provide her with accommodation. The grounds for this application were:

13

(1) That Harrow's 1994 decision that she had become intentionally homeless on leaving 51A Tudor Road was erroneous. Both the trial judge, Mr. Roger Toulson Q.C. sitting as a deputy judge of the Queen's Bench Division, and the Court of Appeal (Leggatt, Roch and Aldous L.JJ.) held against Mrs. Fahia on this point: see 29 H.L.R. 94 and 974 respectively. This point was no longer persisted in before your Lordships.

14

(2) That the 1995 Determination was founded on an error of law, viz., that Mrs. Fahia could not cease to be intentionally homeless following the 1994 eviction unless she had at some time obtained "settled accommodation";

15

(3) That Harrow had acted improperly in rejecting Mrs. Fahia's application by conducting "a non-statutory...

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