COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM THE CENTRAL LONDON COUNTY COURT
HIS HONOUR JUDGE MITCHELL
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE WILSON
LORD JUSTICE ETHERTON
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Mr Iain Colville (instructed by London Borough of Camden) for the Respondent
Hearing date : 10th March 2011
Crown Copyright ©
LORD JUSTICE ETHERTON :
The factual background
"206 Discharge of functions by local housing authorities
(1) A local housing authority may discharge their housing functions under this Part only in the following ways –
(a) by securing that suitable accommodation provided by them is available,
(b) by securing that he obtains suitable accommodation from some other person, or
(c) by giving him such advice and assistance as will secure that suitable accommodation is available from some other person."
"176 Meaning of accommodation available for occupation
Accommodation shall be regarded as available for a person's occupation if it is available for occupation by him together with:
(a) any other person who normally resides with him as a member of his family, or
(b) any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him.
References in this Part to securing that accommodation is available for a person's occupation shall be construed accordingly."
The judgment below
"In applying and interpreting this Act there are several important points to bear in mind. First, it is designed for the expressed purpose of bringing families together…"
"One of the main purposes of the Act was to secure that, when accommodation is provided for homeless persons by the housing authority, it should be made available for all the members of his family together and to end the practice which had previously been common under which adult members of a homeless family were accommodated in hostels while children were taken into care, and the family thus split up."
"For purposes of this Act accommodation is only available for a person's occupation if it is available for occupation both by him and by any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him and any reference in this Act to securing accommodation for a person's occupation shall be construed accordingly."
"In this situation, Parliament plainly, and wisely, placed no qualifying adjective before the word 'accommodation' in section 1 or section 4 of the Act, and none is to be implied. The word 'appropriate' or 'reasonable' is not to be imported. Nor is accommodation not accommodation because it might in certain circumstances be unfit for habitation for the purposes of Part II of the Housing Act 1957 or might involve overcrowding within the meaning of Part IV. Those particular statutory criteria are not to be imported into the Homeless Persons Act for any purpose. What is properly to be regarded as accommodation is a question of fact to be decided by the local authority. There are no rules. Clearly some places in which a person might choose or be constrained to live could not properly be regarded as accommodation at all; it would be a misuse of language to describe Diogenes as having occupied accommodation within the meaning of the Act. What the local authority have to consider, in reaching a decision whether a person is homeless for the purposes of the Act, is whether he has what can properly be described as accommodation within the ordinary meaning of that word in the English language."
"There is no doubt that the applicant's wife and three small daughters are people who normally reside with him and are members of his family. It is clear therefore in this case that the respondent was obliged to provide accommodation that was available not only for him but also for his wife and three children. What was offered here was split accommodation with the applicant and one child in one place and his wife and the other two elsewhere, albeit I understand that they would have been less than a mile apart.
[Counsel for the housing authority] argues, one must be realistic and bear in mind that what is suitable on a temporary basis may be rather different from what is suitable on a permanent basis and I can see the force of that argument. But, it seems to me that the combined effect of sections 188 and 176 is that the accommodation provided for the applicant must be sufficient to accommodate his wife and family as well. In my judgment, the obligation is not discharged by providing split accommodation in separate dwellings. It is the policy of the law that families should be kept together; they should be able to live together as a unit. I can well see that the obligation could be discharged by, for example, separate rooms in the same hotel, but not I think in two entirely separate hostels up to a mile apart."
"I see no reason why the authority should be obliged to close their eyes to the virtual impossibility of providing a single unit for the entire family of eleven. It further seems to me that the authority could properly take into account both that the offer that they made would leave the two parts of the family only some two miles apart, and also that it might well have been possible then to re-accommodate the rest of the family yet closer still.
It would of course, have been entirely different had, for instance, all 11 members of the family arrived together as refugees, never previously having been split, and with all eight children still of an age when they would have been inseparable from their parents. Then it might well have been necessary for the authority, assuming as was the case here that it was impossible for the applicant actually to join the rest of her family in their existing accommodation, to have found accommodation together for all 11, although even then I should have thought it would probably be a sufficient discharge of their duty had they provided that accommodation in, for instance, adjacent flats. But, of course, that is not the position here. This lady has in fact been separated by the force of circumstances from the rest of her family for some years. Her older grandchildren now are of an age where they can be split off from their mother, father and siblings, provided only, no doubt, that they keep in close touch. The grandmother can, in my judgment, perfectly properly be accommodated so as to be with one or other of those sub-divided family units.
It seems to me in the result quite impossible to brand the decision of this authority not to regard all 10 other members of the family as persons who might reasonably be expected to reside with the applicant as perverse; namely, as Lord Brightman made plain in Puhlhofer, as a decision so unreasonable as to verge on an absurdity."
"What lies behind this case is the appalling problem faced by the Council in finding accommodation for those who are homeless. Its difficulties are compounded by the increasing numbers of asylum seekers who need to be accommodated while their applications are being considered. As Mr Williams, the Homeless Persons Unit manager for the Council has deposed, Newham is "labouring under an accommodation crisis of unparalleled proportions". It is impossible to find even sufficient bed and breakfast accommodation, let alone other more desirable accommodation, in Greater London. The increase in house prices has made leased accommodation more difficult to find."
"There are degrees of suitability. What is suitable for occupation in the short term may not be suitable for occupation in the medium term, and what is suitable for occupation in the medium term may not be suitable for occupation in the longer term ... As we have already pointed out, the suitability of a place can be linked to the time that a person is expected to live there. Suitability for the purpose of section 193(2) does not imply permanence or security of tenure. Accommodation under section 193(2) is another kind of staging post, along the way to permanent accommodation in either the public or private sector."
LORD JUSTICE WILSON
LORD JUSTICE JACOB