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June 01 2023

Our legal eagle swoops in with some information on (Un)Personalised Housing Plans and accommodation outside local area. By Jamie McGowan

It has become increasingly common for homeless applicants to be offered accommodation outside the local authority area where they made their initial application. Of course, for some people a move away from their local area is appropriate, such as applicants fleeing domestic violence. But for many, a move out of their area can make it hard to maintain links with family, community and support networks, having a detrimental impact on physical and mental health.

Out-of-borough placements are more likely with offers of temporary accommodation. Unfortunately, there is nothing inherently unlawful about councils making offers of accommodation outside (or even significantly far away from) their own area. However, all offers must be ‘suitable’ and location is an important factor in this.

In some of the legal cases below, the courts have made rulings about what local authorities need to consider when making these offers. This article describes some of the major developments regarding the location of offers of accommodation over the past few years. It also sets out a few practical steps people can take to try to avoid being made unsuitable offers and when to challenge them.

1996: Housing Act 1996 (section 208): When a local authority has accepted a duty to house someone, the starting point is that offers of accommodation should be in its own area. However, they could justify not doing this where they could demonstrate it wasn’t ‘reasonably practicable’ to source such accommodation.

2015: Nzolameso v Westminster: the court ruled that local authorities had to try to accommodate applicants in-borough in each case and, when this isn’t possible, offers should be as close as possible to your local area.

2019: Waltham Forest v Saleh: What is a suitable location for a household can change with their circumstances. A local authority needs to keep ‘suitability’ under review and take into consideration changes in family circumstances.

2022: Paley v Waltham Forest: The court ruled that, if a household is accommodated outside their local area, a local authority needs to factor in things like the cost of travelling to and from work and school or visiting family. They need to consider the practical difficulties of living away from your local area.


How can I demonstrate my need to stay local?

In some cases, offers of accommodation out-of-borough will be very difficult to contest. However, some families have particular care, medical, educational or other needs which would be negatively impacted by moving away from support.

Local authorities have a duty to record a household’s particular needs and then to consider these when making future offers. This is called a Housing Needs Assessment (HNA) which is sometimes formed of several different documents. You should also receive something called a Personalised Housing Plan (PHP). You don’t need to worry too much about the difference between these, but you should make sure that any document which claims to record what your needs are is accurate.

Make sure you tell the council if your household has a need to remain local. This might be because someone accesses specialist medical services in the area, attends a school that provides for special educational needs or receives regular care from someone in the area. These are just examples and you need to be as precise as possible about your own circumstances and, wherever possible, provide evidence of this.

If your circumstances are complicated, you should consider seeking advice from somewhere like a Citizens Advice Bureau or a Law Centre. They can also help you to assess things like affordability, another factor in the suitability of accommodation. It’s a good idea to get advice about how to properly communicate your needs to the council.

If you receive an offer of accommodation that you think is unsuitable, you should get advice at this stage. Rejecting an offer is very risky. It is nearly always best to accept the offer and then request a review. You need to act as quickly as possible because you typically have 21 days to challenge an offer. You should seek advice about challenging the suitability of an offer.


Recap

  • The article examines cases in England of accommodation outside your local area
  • If you are being offered accommodation outside your local, you can get advice from the Citizens Advice on its website here: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  • Visit the Citizens Advice Scotland website here: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland

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