case digest

meaning of 'homeless'


R -v- Brent LBC ex parte Awua [1996] AC 55; [1995] 3 All ER 493; (1995) 27 HLR 453, HL
The Awua case is the leading case on the meaning of 'homeless'. Here, Lord Hoffmann stated that someone could not be described homeless just because their accommodation was temporary - and in so doing, shattered previously held beliefs by housing advisors throughout the UK. It had been thought that qualifying applicants were ultimately eligible for permanent accommodation. (GLC note: as at March 2001, the Housing (Scotland) Bill is making its way through the Scottish Parliament - the Bill will effectively reverse the impact of the House of Lords decision in Awua).

McAuley -v- Dumbarton District Council 1995 SLT 318 (Outer House)
The applicants had a history of being subjected to harassment fromn their neighbours. Mr McAuley had a disabling condition. Following the discharge of a shotgun at their home, the McAuleys applied as homeless. The council said it had no suitable properties available and decided that the applicants were not homeless. Lord Coulsfield held (dismissing the applicant's petition) that (a) the council had been entitled to limit consideration of housing to its own stock; (b) there had been no evidence to demonstrate that there was alternative or more suitable accommodation available.

Stewart -v- Inverness District Council 1992 SLT 690 (Outer House)
Inverness DC obtained a possession order against the petitioner with respect to his occupancy of accommodation on a mobile-home site. After the possession order was granted - but before eviction - the petitioner applied to Inverness DC as homeless. The council refused to consider him as 'homeless' and said he was only 'threatened' with homelessness. Lord Coulsfield quashed the council's decision and held that the applicant had been homeless from the moment the possession order took effect (notwithstanding the council's delay in implementing it). Lord Coulsfield observed that "a person who is liable to be removed at any moment does not, in a proper sense, in my view, enjoy permission to remain in occupation".

R -v- Ealing LBC ex parte McBain [1985] 1 WLR 1351; 1 All ER 13; (1986) 18 HLR 59, CA
The applicant, while pregnant, applied as homeless in March 1983. She refused the offer of council homeless accommodation at that time. One year later, the applicant applied again. At this time, she was pregnant with her second child. The council claimed it had previously discharged its duty (by making an offer which had been refused in 1983). The Court of Appeal quashed the council's decision. It held that the council had failed to consider that there had been a material change, namely the fact the applicant was expecting a second child (and the previously offered accommodation would not have been suitable). To establish 'material change' an applicant had to show there had been a change which made the previously offered accommodation unsuitable.

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R -v- Ealing LBC ex parte Sidhu (1982) 2 HLR 45, Queens Bench Division
Mrs Sidhu left her home with her kids after violence from her husband. She went to a women's refuge and applied to the council as homeless. The council refused to accept she was homeless as she was accommodated in a refuge and that she did not have priority need until she obtained a final custody order for the kids. Justice Hodgson quashed the council's decision. The refuge was temporary crisis accommodation only; and the council was not entitled to require the applicant to have a final custody order before treating her as being in priority need.

R -v- Medina BC ex parte Dee (1992) 24 HLR 562, Queens Bench Division
The applicant lived in accommodation which was damp and mouldy. She was pregnant with her first child and her doctor and health visitor said the conditions were not safe for a newborn baby. The council insisted the accommodation was fit for human habitation and refused to accept she was homeless (in Scotland - accommodation not reasonable to continue to occupy). Justice Henry quashed the council's decision. He held that the council could not insist the applicant override her clear medical evidence; and it was not reasonable for her to continue to occupy - she was therefore, homeless.

R -v- Wycombe DC ex parte Homes (1990) 22 HLR 150, Queens Bench Division
A council refused to treat an applicant as homeless upon the basis it said it was reasonable for him to continue to occupy his existing accommodation. The applicant had said his home was unsuitable because it was on a steep hill, which was a problem because of his medical condition. The court quashed the council's decision upon the basis it had failed to properly investigate the applicant's medical circumstances.

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