The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Westminster City Council after a resident challenged its offer to house her family in Bletchley.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said that if he found in favour of the appellant it would “put local housing authorities in an impossible position”.
Court papers say that until November 2012, Titina Nzolameso lived in a four-bedroom house in Westminster, the rent for which was covered by housing benefit in the form of local housing allowance.
Following the reduction of housing benefit in 2012, Ms Nzolameso was unable to afford the rent on her property and, as a result, she and her five children became homeless.
The council offered her temporary accommodation in a five-bedroom house in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, but Ms Nzolameso refused the offer on the basis that her support network was in Westminster and that the proposed property was too far from her children’s schools.
As a result of her rejection, Westminster City Council decided it had discharged its main housing duty.
Ms Nzolameso asked for a review of both the decision that the house in Bletchley was suitable for her, and of the decision that the council had discharged its duty to provide her with accommodation. A review was carried out, but the reviewing officer upheld both decisions and the case went to the Court of Appeal.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said the case rested on which factors, such as housing and financial pressures, a council could take into consideration when deciding whether it was reasonably practicable to accommodate a particular homeless person within its own district.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said the appellant’s submission that the council should have offered a suitable property within its own district without considering wider factors, and, failing that, properties in the districts of neighbouring authorities, was not practical.
“That would impose an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on councils, which do not have the human or financial resources to undertake a search of that kind for every applicant,” he said.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said “the court should be astute to ensure that local housing authorities give proper consideration” to their housing duty and don’t provide accommodation “outside their own districts in a routine and unthinking manner”.
“On the other hand, many authorities, of which Westminster is one, are under great pressure to discharge their statutory obligations and should not be prevented from making sensible use in an orderly way of the housing stock available to them, whether within or outside their own districts,” he said. “For these reasons I do not think that Westminster was in breach of its obligations under section 208 of the [Housing] Act .”
Daniel Astaire (Con), Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “This is a victory for common sense. Councils have a raft of considerations to take into account when finding accommodation, not least their duty towards other people who are already waiting for a home.
“Had this ruling gone the other way, it would have forced local authorities to disregard the needs of those who had a more pressing need to stay in their area.
“It would also have required councils to scour every neighbouring borough until they found an available property – whether or not it was suitable – imposing an unreasonable burden on local authority resources.”