- Lawyers welcome significant judgment which clarifies local authority
responsibilities when assessing social housing needs for families with
- Tower Hamlets and Havering Council actions declared unlawful following
successful judicial review by homeless family
In a judgment given yesterday, Mr Justice Cobb has criticised the 'shameful' actions of two London councils which led to a vulnerable family – with two young
children – being forcibly evicted on to the streets.
The family, known as AM for
legal reasons, found themselves caught in a stand-off between Tower Hamlets
council and Havering council, each claiming it was the responsibility of the
other authority to find accommodation for the family.
The mother, who
suffers from mental health problems, has two children who were aged 12 weeks and
2 years when they were evicted in July 2014 from their temporary
accommodation. The family had applied as homeless to Tower Hamlets and while the
council investigated their application, they were placed in temporary
accommodation in Havering.
Tower Hamlets then decided the family were
'intentionally homeless' and that their accommodation would end in 28 days.
Tower Hamlets asked their social services department to carry out an assessment
to see if the children were in need and if the social services department could
help with housing. Just before the temporary accommodation was about to end,
Tower Hamlets social services abandoned their assessment and told the family
they would have to ask Havering social services for help instead.
the family tried to get help from Havering they were turned away as Havering
asserted responsibility lay with Tower Hamlets. During the subsequent stand-off
between the two boroughs, the family were forcibly evicted from their temporary
accommodation in Havering onto the streets for a day, followed by a move into
emergency accommodation for a weekend whilst the legal wrangling continued
between the two boroughs.
The family then launched a judicial review and
obtained an order from the court for Havering Council to accommodate them
pending the outcome of the judicial review.
Mr Justice Cobb, on giving
judgment yesterday stated that: 'the strategy which each authority adopted…to
avoid responsibility for AM and his family was shameful'. Mr Justice Cobb
'Persistent and endemic failures on the part of neighbouring local
authorities to co-operate with each other in resolving such issues in individual
cases have regrettably resulted in vulnerable families…being without support or
services. It is unacceptable for the authorities simply to stonewall each other
while attempting to offload their obligations.'
Similar conflicts between
local authorities have become increasingly common due to the shortage of
available housing and the housing benefit cap, resulting in boroughs seeking to
house families in lower rent boroughs elsewhere. In a judgement which will
affect how local authorities will have to treat similar cases in future, Mr
Justice Cobb ruled that the local authority responsible for assessing the needs
of children in these cases should be the borough in which the family were
actually living (in this case Havering), and the local authority responsible for
providing housing whilst an assessment of the children’s needs takes place,
should be the authority that had placed them there (in this case Tower Hamlets).
He also called for statutory guidance to be made available to local authorities
to clarify which authorities are responsible for assessing the needs of children
and the provision of housing in circumstances similar to this
Lou Crisfield of Miles & Partners LLP, the law firm
representing the family, said:
'We are extremely pleased with the outcome of
this judgment. With “out of borough” placements of homeless families becoming
widespread, vulnerable families were finding themselves being batted to and fro
between the placing and receiving boroughs when they tried to access services
for their children from a social services authority. This judgment has clarified
not only who should carry out an assessment of the family’s children’s needs but
who should provide housing while that assessment takes place, meaning that
vulnerable families are protected and housed during the process. We hope this
judgment means our client’s appalling experience of being evicted while two
Local Authorities argued about who was responsible for his family will not be
repeated for other families in the future.'
Although Mr Justice Cobb
refused permission for the councils to appeal yesterday, it is understood that
both the London Borough of Havering and the London Borough Hamlets are still
seeking to appeal the judgment to the Court of Appeal.The full judgment is available to download here.