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Public law and Regulation

Case reports and guidance on public law and professional regulation issues

02 MAY 2013

Sharif v London Borough of Camden [2013] UKSC 10; (2013) PLLR 045

Local government - housing - section 176 Housing Act 1996 - offer of accommodation - family - meaning of accommodation ‘together with' family members - adjoining flats

Where a local authority was under a duty to provide an individual with suitable accommodation ‘together with' members of their family, accommodation in two separate but flats a few yards apart was capable of satisfying this requirement.

20 February 2013

Supreme Court

Lords Hope, (Deputy President), Walker, Kerr and Carnwatch JSC, Lady Hale JSC

(1)        The appellant (C) accepted that it was under a duty to secure suitable accommodation for the respondent (S) under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (the 1996 Act). As S's father, for whom she acted as carer, and sister, a minor, lived with her, C accepted that they formed part of her household and were entitled to be accommodated with her. The accommodation offered to S and her family consisted of two flats on the same floor of a hostel, a few yards apart.

(2)        S argued that the offer of accommodation did not fulfil the statutory duty as it was not accommodation in which she could be accommodated ‘together with' her father and sister, under section 176 of the 1996 Act.

(3)        Lord Carnwath JSC, with whom Lord Walker JSC agreed (Lord Kerr JSC dissenting), held (i) that the ordinary meaning of ‘accommodation' did imply a unit of accommodation; it was not an abuse of language to speak of a family accommodated in two adjoining flats. The statutory test could be satisfied by two units of accommodation located in such a way as to effectively enable a family to live together. This was a question of fact and was unlikely to amount to a legal issue unless irrationality could be shown. The term accommodation was not qualified by any requirement that it enable a family to carry on the normal operations of family life (R v Hillingdon LBC ex p Pulhofer [1986] AC 484 followed); to hold otherwise would hamper attempts to reduce overcrowding, producing a surprising result. Given that the same definition applies to both temporary and permanent accommodation, it would be particularly onerous to apply such a qualification. It was difficult to see how adjacent rooms could satisfy the definition but adjacent flats could not (R v Ealing London Borough Council, ex p Surdonja [1999] 1 All ER 566 followed) [17] - [20]. (ii) That the decision was to be understood as a narrow one. The fundamental objective of local authorities in housing families was that they should be able to ‘live together' in the true sense. Accommodation, in separate units or otherwise, which did not fulfil this unless would not achieve that objective [23].

Per Lord Kerr JSC: the notion of the family living in a single unit is at the heart of homelessness legislation. If living together as a family was to have any meaning, it should mean living together as a distinct entity in a single unit of accommodation. Nothing in the legislation suggested or implied otherwise. If local authorities were able to house families in separate units, it was to be feared that they would seek to exploit this, undermining the principle purpose of the legislation [31] - [39].

Appeal allowed

Key Paragraphs

[1] - [7] - Introduction and legal background

[8] - [13] - Factual background

[14] - [16] - The issues in the appeal

[17] - [24] - Discussion

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