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Court of Appeal rules for council in dispute over single offer of accommodation

The London Borough of Bromley was entitled to decide it had discharged its duty to house a woman after she refused a single offer of accommodation, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In London Borough of Bromley v Broderick [2020] EWCA Civ 1522 Lord Justice Newey said the suitability of accommodation had to be based on what was available at the time concerned, not that somewhere more appropriate might become available at a later date.

Celisa Broderick returned to Bromley from Leicester fleeing domestic abuse and moved to a refuge run by Bromley and Croydon Women's Aid.

Bromley considered her unintentionally homeless and in priority need owing her the "main homelessness duty" under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996.

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It offered her and her young son temporary accommodation in a two-bedroom maisonette in Gillingham, Kent, some 30 miles away.

Bromley’s offer letter urged her to move in as “if you refuse to move into the property and your review request is unsuccessful, you will be left in a very difficult position as the council would no longer provide you with any accommodation at all.

“If you do move in and request a review, and your review request is successful, we will make you another offer.”

Ms Broderick emailed a housing allocations officer to express concern that Gillingham was too far from her and her son's local support networks.

The council replied that she could transfer to a hospital near Gillingham for various health treatments and that her son was not at a critical school age.

Both Bromley and Croydon Women's Aid and Citizens Advice Bromley contacted the council in support of Ms Broderick’s argument that the flat was too distant but the council said it could not keep the property open any longer and if she failed to move in, the council would consider ceasing its duty under section 193 of the 1996 Act.

Ms Broderick then took legal action and the case came before Judge Lamb at the County Court in Central London.

He quashed Bromley’s decision that it had discharged its duty, and a subsequent review which had concurred with this.

Bromley then took the case to the Court of Appeal where it argued that section 193(5) of the 1996 Act allowed it to bring a duty under that section to an end if it made “an offer of accommodation which the authority are satisfied is suitable for the applicant”, and had informed the applicant “of the possible consequence of refusal”.

Newey LJ said the case turned on the suitability of the Gillingham flat. Judge Lamb decided against the council on the basis that it was relevant to consider the availability of other properties between the date of the offer (19 December 2017) and that of the refusal (29 January 2018), but there was no obligation to make additional offers.

Newey LJ said: “It seems to me that, where the issue is whether a housing authority's duty has come to an end because the applicant refused an offer of suitable accommodation, suitability should be determined by reference to the position at the date the offer was made.

“On that footing, there can be no basis for disputing that the council's offer was suitable for Miss Broderick.”

The council had “addressed in detail both the accommodation that was available to the council on the day it made its offer and Ms Broderick's reasons for wishing to be closer to Bromley”.

He said there was no reason why Bromley’s should have made a decision on what to offer Ms Broderick on some different date when other homes might have been available.

"The shortage of housing … is the constant backcloth against which all housing decisions are currently made [and] the council did not need to wait in the Micawberish hope that 'something will turn up’”, Newey LJ said.

Bromley had discharged its duty by inquiring what suitable accommodation was available when it made its offer, he found.

Mark Smulian

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