Immediate housing duties owed to victims of fires

Friday 16 June 2017

Garden Court Chambers sends its condolences, shock and solidarity to the victims of the dreadful fire at Grenfell Towers. We hope that the following might be useful on homelessness duties owed by the local authority to former residents.

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The local authority has a duty to provide immediate accommodation to anyone who “might be” homeless, eligible for assistance and might have a priority need:

  • “Eligible for assistance” refers to immigration status or recent residence abroad, if there is any doubt as to whether or not someone is eligible, then accommodation should be secured whilst the local authority makes inquiries and comes to a decision
  • Anyone who is told he or she is not “eligible” should urgently seek legal advice
  • All adults who have dependent children (usually interpreted as aged 18 or below) will have a priority need
  • Anyone who is aged 16 or 17 has a priority need
  • Anyone who is made homeless as a result of an emergency such as a fire has a priority need, so all residents made homeless from Grenfell Towers should be treated as having a priority need.

The local authority’s immediate obligation is to secure temporary accommodation, which must be suitable for each person’s needs. When the local authority has to secure accommodation immediately, the accommodation offered might be of a lower standard than that provided over the longer-term. If low standard accommodation is provided, representations should be made as to why it is not suitable, and the local authority should be asked to find alternative accommodation.

The local authority will, having secured immediate accommodation, make inquiries as to whether it owes a longer-term duty to accommodate these residents. Without pre-empting those inquiries and the local authority’s decision, it would be surprising if the local authority decided that it did not owe a duty to secure longer-term accommodation for the residents displaced. Once it accepts that it owes a duty to secure longer-term accommodation, the local authority should find accommodation, which could be private rented accommodation or social housing.

If someone is considering refusing an offer of accommodation made by a local authority, the consequences could be that no further offers may be made. Anyone considering refusing an offer should take advice first.

Even if someone is able to stay in the short-term with family or friends, and does not need immediate help from the council, he or she will still be homeless and should consider making an application for homelessness assistance to the council for help in finding private rented or social housing.

Applications can be made to any local authority.

Shelter encourages anyone affected who needs free housing advice to contact the charity's London advice line on 0344 515 1540.

Liz Davies is a housing law barrister in the Garden Court Chambers Social Housing Team.

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