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Local councils have been given warning by the house of lords that once they provide temporary accommodation for the...
Local councils have been given warning by the house of lords that once they provide temporary accommodation for the homeless they could be locking themselves into a commitment to provide permanent accommodation.

The warning came in a case in which the Hammersmith & Fulham LBC challenged an appeal court decision that in the eyes of the law temporary emergency accommodation amounts to a 'normal residence' for those involved.

The case centred on a family from Somalia. On coming to England the wife and her two sons initially lived in Ealing, but she then moved to live with a friend in Hammersmith and Fulham's area. Her husband then came to England and lived with another friend in the area.

In April 1998 they jointly asked the council for accommodation and were given temporary accommodation, first in an hotel and then in a flat. The following month they made a formal application as being homeless but Hammersmith & Fulham LBC referred the applications to Ealing on the basis that the family had no local connection with their area.

Now though the law lords have ruled that the 'interim accommodation'

arrangements made by Hammersmith & Fulham LBC provided the necessary link.

The council argued that interim accommodation pending a decision on a homelessness application could not be classified as 'normal residence' for the purposes of the Housing Act 1996.

However, ruling that the council was wrong, Lord Slynn, in a decision unanimously backed by four other law lords said he considered that the meaning of 'normal residence' had to be regarded as the place where at the relevant time the person involved in fact resided.

'So long as that place where he eats and sleeps is voluntarily accepted by him, the reason why he is there rather than somewhere else does not prevent that place from being his normal residence,' he said.

'He may not like it, he may prefer some other place, but that place is for the relevant time the place where he normally resides. If a person, having no other accommodation, takes his few belongings and moves into a barn for a period to work on a farm that is where during that period he is normally resident, however, much he might prefer some more permanent or better accommodation. In a sense it is 'shelter' but it is also where he resides.

'Where he is given interim accommodation by a local housing authority even more clearly is that the place where for the time being he is normally resident. The fact that it is provided subject to a statutory duty does not, contrary to the appellant authority's (Hammersmith & Fulham LBC's) argument, prevent it from being such.'

He rejected claims by the council that provision of interim accommodation could not lead to creation of a local connection attributable to normal residence and therefore something to be taken into account in assessing whether an authority was obliged to consider a homelessness application.


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