Homelessness application: Interim relief, suitability and housing benefit

August 24, 2020

Clare Cullen considers the case of R (on the application of Tiemo) v Lambeth London Borough Council [2020] EWHC 1193 (Admin) where the High Court adjourned a case considering the suitability of interim accommodation where further information was required

The case demonstrates the need for clear information to be provided to the court where issues of suitability are being raised in respect of s.188 interim accommodation. If issues of affordability are raised, the court will need to know why a housing benefit application has not or cannot be made.

Background facts

In February 2020, the applicant became entitled to recourse to public funds.

In April 2020, the applicant was no longer able to live with a friend and applied to the local authority as homeless. The applicant and her son were provided with interim accommodation under s.188, Housing Act 1988 (initially a hotel but subsequently a flat) pending enquiries into her homelessness application.

A dispute arose as to the suitability of the accommodation offered. Most of the issues in dispute (concerning hot water, lack of kettle and other matters) were resolved but there was an outstanding issue as to affordability. An application was made for judicial review and interim relief.

An order was made by Julian Knowles J that the local authority must provide interim suitable accommodation within 7 days. It was unclear from the order whether Julian Knowles J was aware that the applicant had been accommodated in the flat.

The issue before the High Court was whether the flat was suitable and in compliance with the order of Julian Knowles J.  The applicant contended that the flat was unsuitable because it was unaffordable. The applicant had not made an application for housing benefit. The applicant stated at the hearing that she was struggling to apply for housing benefit as she had not been given a national insurance number but this was contradicted by a report from social services.

The local authority contended that the issue of whether the property was unsuitable due to affordability was hypothetical in circumstances where the applicant had not yet applied for housing benefit. The local authority had given assurances that it would not take action for non-payment of rent while an application for housing benefit was pending.

Outcome

Mr Justice Martin Spencer agreed with the authority that the application was premature as a claim for housing benefit could resolve the issue of suitability.

The position regarding housing benefit was obscure and it seemed surprising that solicitors had not assisted the applicant with obtaining a national insurance number if that was key. The matter was adjourned for 28 days for housing benefit, arrears and back payment of housing benefit to be addressed so that the court would be in a better position to assess suitability.