Grenfell And Chalcots Residents – Homelessness Duties

13 Aug 2019

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Following on from claims that survivors of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire are being rehoused hundreds of miles away in Preston we look at whether the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) are entitled to place residents out of borough or whether they have a duty to house them at all.

Section 189 of the Housing Act 1996 provides that any applicant will have a priority need for housing if currently homeless (or threatened with homelessness) as a ‘result of an emergency such as a flood, fire or other disaster.’  There are therefore two questions for the local housing authority to consider:

  • Is the applicant’s present or threatened homelessness ‘as a result of’ an emergency?
  • If so, was the emergency one of a relevant type?

The ‘emergency’ must cause the actual or prospective loss of accommodation and therefore the current or threatened homelessness.  The category is intended to deal with sudden emergencies rather than the loss of accommodation that has been anticipated for some time.  For example if the person is already homeless before the emergency occurs then the homelessness did not result from the emergency and will not be able to rely on this provision for priority need.

On the other hand if a person loses their home as a result of an emergency it is irrelevant to the question of priority need that he or she might have been made homeless anyway at a later date.  So, for example, a person can be in priority need under this category if made homeless by an emergency, even if that occurs just before an imminent eviction for rent arrears or other breach of tenancy.

Types of emergency

The wording used in the Housing Act is ‘emergency such as a flood, fire or other disaster.’  The courts have held that this wording means that the emergency must have some physical nature but the flood, fire or other disaster need not have been naturally caused. A person is in priority need if the emergency is caused from for example a burst communal water tank, faulty electric wiring or by an arsonist and there is no set examples of what constitutes the emergency.

It is clear, therefore, that all residents from the Grenfell Tower will be in priority need and RBKC will owe a legal duty to accommodate them. Under the Housing Act interim emergency accommodation such as hostels can be provided, although the emergency accommodation offered can be challenged.  Once a full homelessness duty is owed RBKC will have a continuing duty to ensure the accommodation provided is suitable.

Location of new properties offered

Local authorities are required to secure accommodation for the applicant and his or her household within their own districts so far as is reasonably practicable. ‘Reasonably practicable’ is a stronger duty than an obligation simply to act reasonably.

If accommodation is to be secured outside of their own districts they must give notice to the local housing authority in whose district the accommodation is situated.  This is because the local housing authority in whose district the accommodation is situated will become responsible for any social services or educational responsibilities. Local authorities must have regard to official guidance on suitability of properties offered, such as the significance of the disruption which would be caused by the location of the accommodation in respect to work, caring responsibilities or education

Each local authority should maintain and publish policy on how its units of accommodation will be allocated, the factors that the authority relies on in deciding which applicants will be offered accommodation within its own districts, and which factors will be relevant when deciding when accommodation outside of the district would be suitable.  Consideration of these factors should be made available when making an offer.  The offer letter should also indicate that the local authority recognise that, if accommodation could not be secured within its own district there was an obligation to offer accommodation as close to the district as possible.

It is clear that local authorities cannot make offers outside of its district without assessing suitability of the standard, as well as the location, of the accommodation offered. However due to the scarcity of 3 and 4 bedroom properties in Central London this may lead to further challenges if households are not housed together.

Osbornes has a team of Housing and Social Care lawyers who can advice and help if you have been made homeless. To speak with us call us on 020 7485 8811 or fill in our online form.

Chacolts Estate Residents Free Legal Advice Clinic

Osbornes are holding a free legal advice session for Chalcots Estate residents who have been affected by the evacuation. The session will take place on Wednesday 28th June at our office from 4-6pm. 

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