Local Authorities and intentionally homeless families – who takes the responsibility?
R (on the application of) AM v London Borough of Havering (1), London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2), London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (Interested Party)
This case was given permission by James Goudie QC on 17 October 2014 and the trial is due to be listed in early 2015. The case is likely to have widespread application in cases involving homeless families who are found to be intentionally homeless.
AM rented a property from a Housing Association in Birmingham, but after the birth of his first child, he and his wife gave up the flat and moved to the South of England to stay with relatives so he could secure work. AM found work near London (which was live-in) and his wife and child continued to stay with the relatives. When AM changed jobs to one without accommodation, he moved in with his wife and her relatives causing the property to become overcrowded and they were asked to leave.
AM applied to Tower Hamlets Council as homeless. The council placed them temporarily in Havering while they considered his case. He was found to be intentionally homeless because he had left the Housing Association flat in Birmingham without making prior arrangements for settled housing in London.
When he sought accommodation and assistance from social services under s17 Children Act 1989, neither Tower Hamlets nor Havering were willing to assist, each insisting that the other authority bore responsibility for carrying out an assessment and providing services for the family.
The established law indicates that the social services authority for the area where the children are residing have the responsibility to assess. In this case, Havering.
However this does not lie easily with s213A of the Housing Act 1996, and the associated guidance which requires a local housing authority who has found a household with children to be intentionally homeless, to make the social services authority / department aware of the facts of the case so that an assessment of the children’s needs can take place and services (if appropriate) provided to prevent the children becoming street homeless.
These duties, arguably, lie with the housing and social services departments of the authority that made the decision that the family were intentionally homeless. In this case, Tower Hamlets.
This is a particularly pertinent issue in the current climate where “out of borough” placements are routine for homeless applicants, and social services authorities in those (often cheaper) boroughs find themselves with duties towards families who are only in their area because another authority placed them there.
At trial, it is hoped that this case will examine carefully the interplay between the established law on assessments for children in need under the Children Act 1989 and duties to intentionally homeless families under the Housing Act 1996 and establish where the duties should lie.
Lou Crisfield is acting for AM in this case.
If you would like to speak to a legal adviser about any of the issues raised in this article please contact Lou Crisfield on 020 7426 0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.