London Borough of Newham, ex parte Begum [2000] 2 All ER 72 (QBD)

Housing – duty to provide suitable accommodation – s193 Housing Act 1996

This was an application for a declaration that the respondent council was in breach of its duty under s193 Housing Act 1996 to provide the applicants with suitable accommodation. The family of six children and two other dependants were living in a four-bedroom house under a six-month assured shorthold tenancy, made available to them by the council, which accepted that it owed them a duty s193. Act. The council accepted that the property was unsuitable by reason of its inadequate number of bedrooms and the fact that one of the applicants’ dependants was confined to a wheelchair and required ground floor facilities. However, the council contended that: (a) it did not have any suitable accommodation for the applicants in its temporary housing stock; and (b) accommodation which would be suitable was held in the council’s permanent housing stock, which could not be made available to the applicants since it was held for those waiting for permanent accommodation under Part VI of the Act, and as to which there was, in any event, a long waiting list. The council therefore submitted that it had done all that it reasonably could to fulfil its duty to the applicants.

Granting the declaration, the Court held that Parliament had specifically provided that the duty to house the homeless, albeit temporarily, was unqualified. It was clear from s207(1) of the Act that Part VI housing could be made available for the provision of temporary accommodation for the homeless. Although this approach might prejudice those seeking permanent accommodation from a council and favour the homeless, that was what Parliament had intended. The council’s policy in relying on the availability of accommodation provided by private landlords or housing associations, and deciding not to use its own permanent housing stock, meant that it had not taken all reasonable steps to provide suitable accommodation in fulfilment of its s193 duty. Further, the council did not appear to have given any proper consideration to the option of housing the family out of the council’s district; a possibility which was recognised by s208 of the Act.

Although delay might be tolerated, since suitability was a flexible concept and there was recognition by the court that it could not order a council to do the impossible, in the present case the delay was inexcusable.

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