Birmingham City Council (Appellants) v Ali (FC) and others (FC) (Respondents) Moran (FC) (Appellant) v Manchester City Council (Respondents), (2009)

 
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HOUSE OF LORDSSESSION 2008-09[2009] UKHL 36 on appeal from: [2008]EWCA Civ 1228 [2008]EWCA Civ 378OPINIONSOF THE LORDS OF APPEALFOR JUDGMENT IN THE CAUSEBirmingham City Council (Appellants) v Ali (FC) and others (FC) (Respondents)Moran (FC) (Appellant) v Manchester City Council (Respondents)Appellate CommitteeLord Hope of CraigheadLord Scott of FoscoteLord Walker of GestingthorpeBaroness Hale of RichmondLord Neuberger of AbbotsburyCounselAppellant (Birmingham City Council):Ashley Underwood QC Catherine Rowlands(Instructed by Birmingham City Council)Appellant: (Moran):Jan Luba QCAdam Fullwood(Instructed by Shelter Greater Manchester Housing Centre )Interveners: Women’s Aid Federation:Stephen KnaflerLiz Davies(Instructed by Sternberg Reed )Respondent: (Ali):Jan Luba QC Zia Nabi(Instructed by Community Law Partnership)Respondent (Manchester City Council):Clive Freedman QCZoe Thompson(Instructed by Manchester City Council)Interveners: Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:Martin Chamberlain(Instructed by Treasury Solicitors)Hearing dates:26 JANUARY, 28 and 29 APRIL 2009ONWEDNESDAY 1 JULY 2009HOUSE OF LORDSOPINIONS OF THE LORDS OF APPEAL FOR JUDGMENTIN THE CAUSEBirmingham City Council (Appellants) v Ali (FC) and others (FC) (Respondents)Moran (FC) (Appellant) v Manchester City Council (Respondents)[2009] UKHL 36LORD HOPE OF CRAIGHEADMy Lords,1.  I have had the privilege of reading in draft the opinion which has been prepared by my noble and learned friend Baroness Hale of Richmond, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury has contributed. I agree with it, and for the reasons they have given I would allow both appeals.2.  As Baroness Hale explains, both cases concern the duties of local housing authorities towards homeless people under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996. The question which lies at the heart of the Birmingham case is whether it is a lawful discharge of the housing authority’s duty under section 193(2) of the Act to leave a family in accommodation which requires them to be treated as homeless under section 175(3) because it is accommodation which it is not reasonable to expect them to continue to occupy. In the Manchester case it is how the provisions of Part VII are to be applied to a woman who flees domestic violence and is provided with a place in a women’s refuge. The cases were heard separately on different dates, but it was obvious from the outset that there was much common ground. So judgment in the Birmingham case was reserved until after the hearing of the Manchester case, and it makes good sense for them now to be dealt with in a single judgment. I wish to pay tribute to counsel in both cases for their assistance, which included the making of further written submissions in the Birmingham case in the light of the written and oral submissions that were made to the Committee in the Manchester case.3.  I wish also to associate myself particularly with Baroness Hale’s observation in para 36 that both sections 175(3) and 191 look to the future as well as the present. I would make the same point about the duty in section 193(2), which requires the housing authority to secure that accommodation “is available for occupation by the applicant". The equivalent provision in section 31(2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 uses the phrase “becomes available". In my opinion the effect of these two provisions is the same. In Codona v Mid-Bedfordshire District Council [2004] EWCA Civ 925, [2005] LGR 241, para 38, Auld LJ said that the duty of the authority was to secure the availability of suitable accommodation within a reasonable period of time, the reasonableness of the period depending on the circumstances of each case and on what accommodation was available. Collins J took a different approach in the Birmingham case: R (Aweys) v Birmingham City Council [2007] EWHC 52 (Admin). He said that it was a breach of the authority’s duty for it to require families to remain in unsuitable accommodation even for a short time. I prefer the approach which Auld LJ adopted. But he recommended discussion leading to agreement, not compulsion.4.  In the Court of Appeal Arden LJ disagreed with the way the duty was expressed in Codona: R (Aweys) v Birmingham City Council [2008] EWCA Civ 48, [2008] 1 WLR 2305, paras 62-65. She said that the duty in section 193(2) was expressed in terms of producing a result in the context of homelessness, which of its nature requires some urgent action. But the words of the subsection need to be seen in their overall context. The urgency of the action that is needed will vary from case to case, including the way the authority fulfils its interim duty under section 188(1). Each of these two duties needs to be seen in the light of what can be done in the performance of the other. There may be cases where it would not be unreasonable for a homeless person to be expected to continue to occupy for a short period accommodation which it would not be reasonable for him to occupy for a long time while the authority looks for accommodation which will release it from its duty under section 193(2). I agree with Baroness Hale that the court must have regard to the practicalities of the situation. As Auld LJ said in Codona, para 38, the court will not make an order to force a local authority to do the impossible. On the other hand it may well feel that it is proper for it to step in where the time that is allowed to elapse becomes intolerable. The point which I wish to stress is that the description of the duty in Codona is, with respect, the one that should be adopted in preference to that recommended by Arden LJ.LORD SCOTT OF FOSCOTEMy Lords,5.  I, too, have had the advantage of reading in draft the opinion prepared by my noble and learned friend Baroness Hale of Richmond. For the reasons given in that opinion, with which I am in full agreement, I, too, would allow both these appeals. I want to express my agreement also with the views of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead expressed in paragraphs 3 and 4 of his opinion.LORD WALKER OF GESTINGTHORPEMy Lords,6.  I have had the great advantage of reading in draft the opinion of my noble and learned friend by Baroness Hale (in collaboration with my noble and learned friend Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury). I am in full agreement with it and for the reasons which they give I would allow these appeals and make the orders proposed.BARONESS HALE OF RICHMONDMy Lords,7.  My noble and learned friend Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury and I have both contributed to the drafting of this opinion, which embodies the views which we both share.8.  On the surface, these two cases seem poles apart, except that they both concern the duties of local housing authorities towards homeless people under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. In the Birmingham case, six families, each with at least six children, were living in accommodation which had become seriously over-crowded. The City Council accepted that they were unintentionally homeless and in priority need. Nevertheless the families were left in that accommodation for many months or even years before permanent accommodation was found for them. In the Manchester case, a mother left the family home with her two children because of her partner’s violence and went to a women’s refuge. A few weeks later she was evicted from the refuge because of her behaviour towards the staff. The City Council gave her temporary accommodation but soon decided that although she was homeless and in priority need she had become homeless intentionally.9.  In each case, several issues have been raised, but common to both is the meaning of the phrase “accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy” in section 175(3) of the 1996 Act. Does this mean that a person is only homeless if it would not be reasonable for him to stay where he is for another night? Or does it incorporate some element of looking to the future, so that a person may be homeless if it is not reasonable to expect him to stay where he is indefinitely or for the foreseeable future? This question did not arise under the homelessness legislation as originally enacted and some account of how that legislation has evolved is necessary to understanding how the argument has arisen. 10.  Under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, a person were homeless if he had no accommodation which he and his family were entitled to occupy, by virtue of some interest, court order, express or implied licence or statutory right to occupy (1977 Act, s 1(1)). There was no reference in the definition of homelessness to whether or not it was reasonable for him to continue to occupy the accommodation to which he was entitled. Thus in Puhlhofer v Hillingdon London Borough Council [1986] AC 484, this House decided that a couple living with their two young children in one room in a guest house without cooking or laundry facilities were not homeless within the meaning of the Act. However intolerable their living conditions were, there was no requirement that their accommodation be appropriate or reasonable, as long as it could properly be described as accommodation and was available for them to occupy.11.   Hence under the 1977 Act none of the Birmingham families would have been regarded as homeless. Curiously, however, if they had taken the plunge and left their overcrowded accommodation, they might not have been found to be intentionally homeless. The 1977 Act provided that a person became homeless intentionally if he deliberately did or failed to do something which resulted in him ceasing to occupy accommodation “which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy” (1977 Act, s 17(1)). So leaving their accommodation and sleeping on the streets might mean that the council was under a duty to find them accommodation.12.  Parliament reacted to the Puhlhofer decision by inserting new provisions into the...

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