The London Borough of Hillingdon (Appellants v Ricky Puhlhofer and Angela Puhlhofer (Respondents

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date24 Jul 1985
Judgment citation (vLex)[1985] EWCA Civ J0724-4
Docket Number85/0407

[1985] EWCA Civ J0724-4





Royal Courts of Justice


Lord Justice Ackner

Lord Justice Slade


Lord Justice Glidewell


In The Matter of An Application by Ricky Puhlhofer and Angela Puhlhofer for Judicial Review


In The Matter of a Decision Dated The 11th May 1984 By The London Borough of Hillingdon Pursuant to The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977

The London Borough of Hillingdon
Appellants (Respondents)
Ricky Puhlhofer and Angela Puhlhofer
Respondents (Applicants)

MR. DAVID WATKINSON and MR. ROBIN ALLEN (instructed by D.J. Wright Esq., Hillingdon Legal Resource Centre, Hayes, Middlesex) appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Applicants.

MR. KONRAD H.T. SCHIEMANN, QC. and MR. ROBIN A. BARRATT (instructed by the Solicitor to the London Borough of Hillingdon) appeared on behalf of the Appellants/Respondents.


On 15th February 1985, Mr. Justice Hodgson granted the respondents, Mr. and Mrs. Puhlhofer, an order of certiorari to quash the decision of the London Borough of Hillingdon ("The Borough"), the appellants before us, dated 11th May 1984, that Mr. and Mrs. Puhlhofer were neither homeless nor threatened with homelessness, within the meaning of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977.


The circumstances out of which the application for judicial review arose can be shortly stated as follows. Although Mr. Puhlhofer has local connections with Hillingdon, some years ago, in 1981, when he was only 15 years old, his family emigrated to the United States of America. Things did not go well and he returned to the UK on 15th July 1983 when he was still only 17 years of age. Having stayed at a cousin's flat for a couple of nights, he applied to the Borough's Homeless Persons Unit and was directed to Rosslyn Guest House where he first slept on 17th July 1983. Since returning to England, Mr. Puhlhofer has remained unemployed.


A few weeks prior to Mr. Puhlhofer's arrival at Rosslyn Guest House, Miss Grinter, whose family also had connections with Hillingdon, had also moved into Rosslyn Guest House. She moved in with her child, Wesley Mark, who was born on 13th April 1982. She had previously lived with her mother at Hillingdon, but had left because she could not get on with her. She went next to stay with her brother for a short time, and then she too applied to the Borough's Homeless Persons Unit. The Borough considered her, unlike Mr. Puhlhofer, to have become intentionally homeless, but she was nevertheless provided with bed and breakfast accommodation in the Rosslyn Guest House. After about a month she was moved from the original bedroom which had been allocated to her, to a smaller bedroom.


Mr. Puhlhofer and Miss Grinter thus met in the guest house in July 1983 and married on 30th September 1983. After their marriage the family, now consisting of three people with another one on the way, moved back to the bedroom where Mrs. Puhlhofer had first been accommodated. There the family have lived ever since. On 21st April 1984, Mrs. Puhlhofer gave birth to their son. The family has continued to live in the same room. Thus, in May 1984 when the Borough made its decision, the two children referred to above were aged respectively nearly three years and nearly one year.


The Accommodation


The Puhlhofers have no cooking facilities of their own, but they are provided with breakfast. Since the birth of the baby they are permitted, by way of an exception, to use the kitchen in the house for heating the baby's milk. They have no facilities for doing any washing at the guest house, and as an inevitable result it is necessary for them to have their washing done at a laundrette outside. There is practically no room to move in the double bedroom since, in addition to the double bed and single bed, there is a baby's cradle and dressing table. The learned judge was told that the room is further crowded with a pram, steriliser unit, toys, a baby-walker for the elder boy, and disposable nappies.


In essence Mr. Puhlhofer maintained that he and his family were homeless, because the circumstances in which they were living had become intolerable. He deposed that practically all his State benefits were consumed in eating out, even though the accommodation was paid for by the Borough. He said:

"My relationship with my wife is suffering because of the tension generated from the over-crowded conditions in which we live. There is no space for the children to play. The noise is continuous and oppressive to such an extent that it affects our sexual relationship and prevents us from having a normal life. My child, Wesley Mark Puhlhofer, has nightmares about the room in which we live as a result of the over-crowded conditions and the emotional trauma caused by the arguments between my wife and myself. The arguments between us are solely caused by the accommodation in which we live."


The Borough's decision


The Borough, in their formal notice of refusal sent on 11th May 1984, stated:

"With reference to your application for assistance under the provision of [The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977] I am now in a position to inform you that I have completed my enquiries and in my opinion you are not homeless or threatened with homelessness as defined by the above Act because you have accommodation available for your occupation at 92 Weldon Crescent, Harrow, Middlesex [the address of the guest house]."


As the learned judge quite correctly observed, the reason given for the refusal was that the Borough considered that the Puhlhofers had "accommodation" within the meaning of the Act and were therefore not homeless. After the grant of leave to apply for judicial review, Mrs. West, the Borough's Principal Housing Officer, stated that the Puhlhofers' circumstances were further reconsidered. At that time there were, so she was informed and verily believed, a total of 52 families occupying hotel or hostel accommodation, which had originally been secured by the Borough for them in the exercise of its obligation to provide temporary accommodation under the Act. In only 7 of those cases was the family in occupation of more than one room and in 4 of which the family consisted of more than three children. She further stated that on 10th September 1984 437 families were waiting for two-bedroom units, of which no less than 44 families were considered by the Borough at that time to have a higher priority for accommodation than the Puhlhofers, when suitable accommodation became available. This was indicated by the points system which they operated.


The Judge's decision


In granting the Puhlhofer's application to quash the Borough's decision, the learned judge held:

  • "1. That accommodation within the meaning of S.1 of the Act means "appropriate" accommodation and that this accommodation could not be so considered having regard in particular to the degree of over-crowding which its occupation by the Puhlhofer family entailed.

  • 2. That in considering whether the accommodation is appropriate, regard cannot be had to whether it would have been reasonable for a person to continue to occupy the accommodation in the light of the general circumstances prevailing in relation to housing in the Borough's area."


"Accommodation" within the meaning of S.1 of the Act


Section 1 (1) of the Act provides that a person is homeless for the purposes of this Act if he has no accommodation, and a person is to be treated as having no accommodation for those purposes if there is no accommodation—

a. which he, together with any other person who normally resides with him as a member of his family or in circumstances in which the Housing Authority consider it reasonable for that person to reside with him

(i) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or of any order of a Court, or

(ii) has, in England or Wales, an express or implied licence to occupy, or



Subsection (2) provides that a person is also homeless for the purposes of the Act if he has accommodation but (a) he cannot secure entry to it, or (b) it is probable that occupation of it will lead to violence etc., or (c) it consists of a moveable structure etc. and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted to place it and reside in it.


Subsection (3) provides that for the purposes of the Act a person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days.


There is thus nothing in S.1 which defines what is meant by "accommodation". There is nothing in the section which relates to the quality or suitability of the accommodation. However, S.17 of the Act which contains provisions regarding intentional homelessness, is, to my mind, of considerable relevance. It provides:

  • "(1) Subject to subsection (3) below, for the purposes of this Act 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.

  • (2) Subject to subsection (3) below, for the purposes of this Act a person becomes threatened with homelessness intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything the likely result of which is that he will be forced to leave accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy.

  • (3)…..

  • (4) Regard may be had, in determining for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2) above whether it would have been reasonable for a person to continue to occupy...

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