Slater v Lewisham London Borough Council (2006) [2006] EWCA Civ 394

The appellant local housing authority (Lewisham) appealed against the decision that it was not reasonable for the respondent (S) to accept certain accommodation offered to her as a homeless person.  S had two small children and had separated from their father (F). After the birth of the second child S had asked Lewisham to re-house her because her one-bedroom flat was too small.  It had offered her accommodation in the area of New Cross.  S rejected it on the basis that it was not close to her family and friends and because F frequented the New Cross area and she was afraid of him.   Lewisham reviewed the decision and re-offered the property to S on the basis that she had been unable to substantiate her claim that F lived in the area.  S appealed to the County Court.
In the meantime F had broken into her flat and S had obtained an injunction restraining him from entering her flat or threatening her with violence.  The appeal was withdrawn and the authority conducted a further review which concluded that the offer of accommodation was not unsuitable because F appeared to be of no fixed abode and accommodation in New Cross would not put S more at risk from F than accommodation elsewhere.  On appeal the judge held that the reviewing officer had failed to show that he had considered whether it was reasonable for S to accept the offer as required by s.193(7F) of the Housing Act 1996 and that the evidence that it was reasonable for S not to accept the accommodation was overwhelming.  Lewisham submitted that;
(1) the reviewing officer had been entitled to consider suitability and reasonableness together and to conclude that since the premises were suitable S was being unreasonable in refusing them;
(2) the reviewing officer had in any event properly considered whether it was reasonable forStoaccepttheoffer.

The Court of Appeal held that the plain and ordinary meaning of s.193(7F) required the local housing authority to be satisfied that the accommodation was suitable and that it was reasonable for the applicant to accept it.  There were two elements of which the decision-maker had to be satisfied, Tower Hamlets LBC v Begum (2005) EWCA applied.  The particular needs of the applicant, for example to be protected from domestic violence and to be located near support networks, were relevant when considering suitability but that did not mean that those matters were material only to suitability.  The submission that if the premises were suitable it had to follow that it was reasonable to accept them was rejected.  There might be circumstances in which it was reasonable to refuse accommodation that was objectively suitable, Warsame v Hounslow LBC (2000) applied.  In considering whether or not it was reasonable for an applicant to refuse an offer of accommodation that had been found by the housing authority to be suitable, the decision-maker had to have regard to all the personal characteristics of the applicant and, taking account of those subjective factors, ask whether it was objectively reasonable for the applicant to accept, Newham LBC v Khatun (2004) EWCA considered.  The judge had made no error of approach and that ground of appeal failed.
The reviewing officer had addressed suitability but had not addressed the reasonableness of acceptance under the second limb of s.193(7F) adequately or at all.   On the evidence the only reasonable conclusion was that S’s fear that F frequented the New Cross area and that she was at greater risk there was reasonable and justified her decision to refuse to live in the very area she had asked Lewisham to avoid for her peace of mind. It followed that there was no real prospect that Lewisham, acting rationally, and with the benefit of any further enquiries it might reasonably make, could conclude that it was satisfied that it was reasonable for S to accept the offer of accommodation, Tower Hamlets LBC v Deugi (2006) EWCA  applied. The judge had been right so to decide and not to remit the matter to Lewisham for further consideration.

Appeal dismissed.

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