The precarious position of those living in temporary council accommodation is all too clear after the Supreme Court was swayed by the acute pressure on public housing and upheld the right of local authorities to evict without notice or obtaining a court order.
The issue arose in the context of a case in which a mother and child were required to leave a flat in which they had been placed on an interim basis by a local authority. The mother’s homelessness application had been investigated and found wanting and the council took the view that it owed her no further duty under the Housing Act 1996.
Her child lodged a judicial review challenge, claiming that the temporary flat was ‘a dwelling’ and that, by virtue of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, the council could not lawfully proceed to eviction without giving at least four weeks' written notice and obtaining a court order. That argument was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
In rejecting the child’s challenge to that decision, the Court ruled by a majority that the flat lacked the degree of permanency required to qualify as a dwelling. The duty on local authorities to provide interim accommodation arose on a day-to-day basis and was for short and determinate periods only.
The Court noted that to rule otherwise would introduce lengthy delays in evictions from accommodation desperately needed by other homeless people. Although the child’s human right to respect for his home was engaged, the termination of his mother’s temporary licence to occupy the flat was ‘objectively justified’ in the context of severely limited resources of public housing. An appeal by another child in a similar case was also rejected.