Reasons to choose Wilson Browne
Judgment in the case of Samuels v Birmingham City Council has been handed down by the Supreme Court bringing to a conclusion a case that started in 2011 and that will have significant implications for homelessness decisions in England.
Ms Samuels had been an assured shorthold tenant of a property owned by Birmingham City Council. She had four children and in July 2011 she fell into rent arrears and was served with Notice.
The Council decided that Ms Samuels was intentionally homeless, applying the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities issued in 2006 and Article 2 of the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 1996. The Council assessed that Ms Samuels’ accommodation was affordable and reasonable for her to continue to occupy and that her loss of accommodation was a result of her failing to pay a shortfall in rent between her benefits and the rent set.
The County Court dismissed Ms Samuels’ appeal against the Council’s decision, as did the Court of Appeal.
Ms Samuels appealed to the Supreme Court, the central issuing being whether the Council adopted the correct approach in determining the accommodation was “affordable” for the purposes of the Housing Act 1996.
In deciding the matter in Ms Samuels’ favour the Supreme Court found that the 1996 Order requires the local authority to take account of all sources of income, including benefits. It must also undertake an objective assessment of the applicant’s “reasonable living expenses” – this is not just a matter for the subjective opinion of the case officer.
The Court made it clear that reasonable living expenses were to be determined both in relation to the applicant and her children. In this case the pleaded living expenses of £1,234.99 per month were within the £1,349.33 limit regarded as appropriate by way of welfare benefits. In those circumstances the Court found it hard to see how the expenses could be considered unreasonable.
As a result, if the amount Ms Samuels was left with to pay a shortfall in rent was insufficient it could not be said that she was intentionally homeless.
This is a very important decision and one that will affect families – and local authorities – up and down the Country. Recent changes in the way benefits are calculated and paid has resulted in many families experiencing a shortfall against rent with some having to make difficult decisions between feeding their families and paying their rent.
Going forward more Councils are likely to be left with a responsibility as a result of this decision and more families will receive help under homelessness provisions. The ongoing problem is in finding those families accommodation and managing the issues in the future as rents (and other costs) rise and benefits do not increase to meet that additional cost.