Haile v London Borough of Waltham Forest [2015] UKSC 34

20 May 2015

Lord Reed gave the leading judgment in this case concerning intentional homelessness. Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale and Lord Clarke agreed; Lord Carnworth dissented.

Ms Haile made an application for housing assistance pursuant to Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996. Applying the case of Din v Wandsworth London Borough Council [1983] 1 AC 657 (“Din”) the reviewing officer found her to be intentionally homeless. Following a s184 decision, a s202 decision, a s204 appeal and further appeal to the Court of Appeal, the matter came before the Supreme Court for consideration.

The issue raised in the appeal was whether the review officer was entitled to conclude that the appellant became homeless intentionally because she deliberately gave up accommodation, notwithstanding that, by the time her application fell to be considered, she would have been homeless in any event. The reason she would have been homeless was because she had in the meantime given birth and was not entitled to occupy her last settled accommodation with a baby. As such, the main question was whether her giving birth broke the chain of causation between her leaving her last settled accommodation and her state of homelessness when her application for housing assistance was considered (even though that was not the express reason for her leaving her last settled accommodation).

The Supreme Court found in favour of Ms Haile. It found that although it was not necessary to depart from the House of Lords in Din it was “distinguishing it on a fairly fine basis” (Lord Neuberger paragraph 69). Events other than the acquisition of settled accommodation can break the chain of causation and interrupt a finding of intentional homelessness.

Lord Reed provided a detailed analysis of the legal history of intentional homeless before giving his conclusions about Ms Haile’s situation (starting at paragraph 59). The principle which stands out from his judgment is as follows: “The causal connection between an applicant’s current homelessness and her earlier conduct will be interrupted by a subsequent event where in the light of that event, applying the words of Brightman LJ in the case of Dyson, it cannot reasonably be said of the applicant that “if she had not done that deliberate act she would not have become homeless”. (paragraph 67)

Where there is deliberate conduct, which would ordinarily give rise to a finding of intentional homelessness, if raised, the council must now consider whether the chain of causation should nevertheless be regarded as having been interrupted by some other event and “the question will be whether the proximate cause of the homelessness is an event which is unconnected to the applicant’s own earlier conduct, and in the absence of which homelessness would probably not have occurred.” (paragraph 63)

“…The consequence of the appellant’s giving birth to her baby is that it cannot be said, in relation to her earlier conduct in leaving the hostel, that “if she had not done that deliberate act she would not have become homeless”. Nor can it be said that the policy underlying the provisions as to intentional homelessness, namely to prevent queue-jumping, was applicable to her case. The birth of the baby meant that the appellant would be homeless, at the time when her case was considered, whether or not she had left the hostel when and for the reasons that she did. She had not therefore jumped the queue as a result of her earlier decision to surrender the tenancy.” (paragraph 67)

Lord Reed stated: “…As counsel for the appellant submitted in the present case, the legislation is concerned with the applicant’s homelessness at the time of the authority’s inquiry, and therefore with the intentionality of that state of homelessness. As counsel submitted, any consideration of intentional homelessness arises after it has been decided that a person is homeless, and looks backwards to determine the operative cause of that homelessness.” (paragraph 60)

“That approach is consistent with the object of the provisions concerning intentional homelessness, namely to prevent “queue jumping” by persons who, by intentionally rendering themselves homeless, would (in the absence of such a provision) obtain a priority in the provision of housing to which they would not otherwise be entitled. It would not be consistent with that purpose to deny applicants a priority which had not been affected by their intentional conduct.” (paragraph 61)

Lord Carnworth, dissenting, found that the settled law as per Din should be left as it is. In his judgment, because “[t]he law on these issued ha[d] thus been settled for some 20 years or more” (paragraph 88), and although we are now concerned with the Housing Act 1996 as opposed to the Housing Act 1977, there was “…a clear indication that Parliament intended the same approach to apply as under its predecessor.” (paragraph 88). “Lord Reed observes that these provisions have given rise to “numerous difficulties of interpretation” (para 8). That may have been so in the past, but it seems all the more reason for leaving well alone an aspect of the law which was regarded as settled in the highest court at a relatively early stage….The reasoning of the review officer in the present case seems to me a perfectly orthodox reflection of the majority approach in Din as endorsed in Awua.” (paragraph 89).

Laura was led by Kerry Bretherton in the Supreme Court on this matter.

For further information about this case, please view the judgment in Haile v London Borough of Waltham Forest [2015] UKSC 34, handed down on 20 May 2015


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