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Housing authority acquisitions policies

The Court of Appeal has recently ruled that a local housing authority failed to comply with its own acquisitions policy. Stathis Kosteletos, Clive Adams and Jonathan Hulley examine the ruling.

The recent Court of Appeal case of Abdikadir v London Borough of Ealing [2022] EWCA Civ 979 reinforced the importance of following your own organisation’s policy in relation to discharging duties towards those who present as homeless.

Facts

Ms Abdikadir (AB) applied to Ealing London Borough Council (E) for assistance, under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, in December 2016. In May 2017, E accepted that they owed a duty as she was in priority need and was unintentionally homeless.

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E made an offer of a four-bedroom property to AB (on 21 July 2020), however, the property was in a different London Borough. AB rejected the offer (on 22 July 2020) on the basis that it was not affordable, the property was too small and her youngest daughter’s trip to school would be unreasonably long. E rejected this (on 23 July 2020) as they have followed their allocation policy and it was the only four-bedroom property available on the day the offer was made, as such, E reasoned that their duty had ceased.

Before the Court of Appeal AB argued on two grounds;

  1. That the failure to notify invalidates the review decision; and
  2. In any event, the housing authority did not comply with its statutory duty to secure accommodation within its own district “so far as reasonably practicable”.

Regarding the first ground, it was held that owing to the timeframe of the offer, rejection and subsequent discharge of obligation there was no breach. Should the property have been accepted then it is possible that a different conclusion may have been reached.

Turning to the second ground, E does have an allocation policy and the court found that E had complied with their own policy. However, E also has an acquisition policy whereby operatives would search for suitable private rented accommodation on a daily basis. There was no evidence that this had taken place on the day of the offer, or in the lead up to the making of the offer.

The Court ultimately held that E had breached its acquisitions policy, although it is noted that the court was reluctant to come to this conclusion. It held that there was a breach, even though there was no evidence to suggest that suitable accommodation would have been available via this process.

Law

Section 208(1) Housing Act 1996 provides that “So far as reasonably practicable, a local housing authority shall in discharging their housing functions under this Part secure that accommodation is available for the occupation of the applicant in their district.” The initial obligation is to provide suitable and affordable accommodation in the area. However, if accommodation is secured out of area, written notice shall be given to the local authority within 14 days from the date the offer was made to the applicant. This is provided for in Section 208(4) Housing Act 1996.

Takeaways

There are three key takeaways from this case.

The first is that local authorities need to have in place suitable policies, and that these policies need to be understood and applied in a consistent manner.

Secondly, there needs to be a clear record of how the policy has been complied with. As with many other housing related issues, record keeping is of paramount importance. The records need to be stored in an accessible way and be understood by a third party.

Finally, whether the outcome would have been any different is not of paramount importance, what is important is that the necessary steps have been taken as are outlined in the policy.

Stathis Kosteletos is a Paralegal and Clive Adams and Jonathan Hulley are Partners at Birketts.

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