The Court of Appeal has “reluctantly” allowed an argument that the London Borough of Ealing should have done more to find accommodation for a homeless applicant.
In Abdikadir v London Borough of Ealing  EWCA Civ 979 Lord Justice Lewison, who sat with Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Asplin, said he was aware of the need not to unnecessarily burden financially pressed councils but Ealing had acted unlawfully.
The case arose in an appeal by Shamso Abdikadir from the County Court at Central London.
She argued that Ealing’s failure to notify adjacent London Borough of Hillingdon of its offer to her of a house there - even though she refused it - invalidated a review decision that went against her and that Ealing did not comply with its statutory duty to secure accommodation within its own district "so far as reasonably practicable”.
Ms Abdikadir applied to Ealing for assistance under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 in December 2016.
Ealing accepted that she was eligible, homeless, had a priority need and not homeless intentionally. It accepted the full housing duty, which it said it would discharge by arranging an offer of an assured shorthold tenancy in the private sector for at least 12 months.
She was warned that only one offer would be made and if refused the council would have no further duty towards her.
It offered her a four-bedroom property in Hillingdon whose head landlord was a registered provider of social housing.
Ms Abdikadir refused the property because her youngest daughter would have to take four buses to school, and the living room was not enough for a family of six. Ealing decided therefore that its duty had ceased.
Lewison LJ said Ealing’s temporary accommodation policy was lawful and the argument made was that it did not make a sufficient search for in-borough accommodation before making the placement in Hillingdon.
The judge said “the real question…is whether Ealing actually complied with its policies”.
He noted: “Ealing's response to the inquiry about what steps they had taken to comply with section 208 (1) did not mention any steps taken to investigate the availability of private sector property.
"The acquisition policy stated that acquisition officers ‘check relevant websites on a daily basis for new supply’. But there was no evidence that that had been done.”
Ealing’s barrister “rightly warned us against the ‘judicialisation' of welfare services; and was understandably concerned about the imposition of burdensome duties on hard-pressed and cash-strapped local authorities”, Lewison LJ said.
He added: “If Ealing had been able to demonstrate that it had followed its policy its decision would have been lawful. If in fact Ealing had followed its policy, all that would have been required would have been a statement saying that it had, and explaining how it had done that.
“For these reasons, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that this ground of appeal succeeds.”
Turning to Ealing’s failure to notify Hillingdon, Lewison LJ said this was “only of any significance if the failure to notify invalidates Ealing's decision that its housing duty under section 193 had come to an end”.
Both offer and rejection took place within the 14 day window for giving notice so Ealing was not in breach of section 208 (2).
He said: “Had Ms Abdikadir accepted the offer and actually moved in, then the duty to notify under section 208 (2) might have had greater significance. But that is not this case.”