Housing Authority Decision

Where a person applies to a local housing authority for housing under Part 7, Housing Act 1996 and the authority is satisfied that they are homeless, eligible for assistance, in priority need and have not become homeless intentionally then, unless the authority refers the application to another housing authority, it must secure that accommodation is available for occupation by the applicant. One way of discharging this duty is to make an offer of accommodation under Part 6 (i.e. offer a social housing tenancy, whether with the authority or a private registered provider of social housing). Before making such an offer, the authority must be satisfied that the applicant is able to bring to an end any existing obligations under any existing tenancy or licence.

The applicant has the right to request a review of any decision of a local housing authority as to what duty, if any, is owed to them. If the authority decides that there was a "deficiency" or "irregularity" in the original decision, but nonetheless proposes to reach a decision which is adverse to the applicant, the reviewer must inform the applicant that they are so minded and of the reasons why, and afford the applicant or someone acting on their behalf an opportunity to make further representations either orally or in writing, or both. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the decision on review, they may appeal to the county court on a point of law.

In the case of Querino v Cambridge CC [2024] EWCA Civ 314 Mr Querino had applied to the local authority for support under Part 7. The authority initially provided him with temporary accommodation in a property of which it was the landlord. It then decided that he was owed a further duty and offered him a tenancy of a property which it owned at a one-bedroom flat in Cambridge by way of an allocation of social housing under Part 6. He accepted the property but sought a review, contending that the property was not suitable as he needed a second bedroom to allow his children to stay overnight. The submissions he made in support of this argument included a report from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) which he considered supported his position and which had been prepared in connection with family court proceedings. The Cafcass officer advised the local authority that the report should be disregarded because its disclosure had not been authorised by the family court. The review therefore proceeded without consideration of the report and concluded that the flat was suitable for Mr Querino; in particular, his children all lived full time with their mother.

Mr Querino appealed to the county court which allowed his appeal on three grounds. First, the Circuit Judge held that the decision not to consider the Cafcass report should have triggered further procedures. Secondly, the review officer had wrongly failed to have regard to the content of the Cafcass report. Thirdly, the authority could not have been satisfied that Mr Querino was able to bring to an end his obligations in respect of the temporary accommodation, which was a pre-requisite to making an offer by way of a Part 6 allocation, because they had not considered that issue.

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal and found in favour of the Council. Whilst reg.7 and the further provisions did apply to a review of the suitability of a property, the judge had been wrong to hold that there was any deficiency in the original decision arising from the failure to take the Cafcass report into account. The general position under the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and the relevant Family Procedure Rules was that a Cafcass report could not be disclosed outside of the proceedings in which it was commissioned, without a court order authorising its disclosure. No such order had been made in the present case and it followed that the report should not have been disclosed to the authority and the authority had been correct to disregard its contents. The judge had also been wrong as regards bringing to an end any obligations: as the authority was the landlord of both the temporary accommodation and the one-bedroom flat and, it was indeed able to release Mr Querino from any obligations he owed in respect of the temporary accommodation.

An additional argument was raised by Mr Querino half-way through. He contended that the review decision was additionally deficient, so as to trigger reg.7, because it failed to deal with his personal circumstances (e.g. a disability) or the affordability of the property. That argument was rejected. Those matters had not formed any part of the submissions made by Mr Querino during the review and the authority had therefore been entitled to conclude that there was no deficiency in the original decision.

 

Oliver Kew

Published on 22/04/2024

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