This week the House of Lords gave judgment in an important case about the provision of homelessness assistance to fathers separated from their children. It decided that an order from a family court awarding the father "residence" with the children did not mean that a housing authority had to find that the children might "reasonably be expected" to live with the father and therefore give him a priority need. Jan Luba QC, who represented the father, draws attention to the following practice points emerging from the judgment.
The full text is available at: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/2009/7.html
(1) the father made his homelessness application several weeks before being actually made homeless. As is too often allowed to happen, no decision was made on his application until long after he had actually become homeless. Advisers may need to re-double their efforts to ensure that the statutory scheme is complied with and decisions are made while an applicant is still "threatened with homelessness". That is what the "prevention of homelessness" agenda is supposed to be about;
(2) the case does not decide that a separated father will never be able to establish that it is reasonable to expect his children to live with him. A careful reading shows that family court orders will still be relevant to the assessment, as will any actual residence the children have with the father after the separation but before he becomes homeless. Likewise, if there is some exceptional circumstance e.g. that a disabled child needs the care of each separated parent; and
(3) given Lord Neuberger's approach to the respect to be given to a reviewing officer's decision, it is absolutely critical that very high quality written representations are made at the review stage directly raising the facts and contentions on which the applicant relies. It may be that greater use should be made of the "exceptional cases" funding regime enabling advisers to spend more time than usual providing legal help on those representations. In very many cases the content will be determinative of whether homelessness assistance is provided."