Termination of Temporary Accommodation for Homeless Families Before A Section 184 Notice Is Issued
I had a frustrating case to deal with yesterday which raised an interesting legal question. The Homeless Persons Unit manager and I exchanged emails after I threatened Judicial Review proceedings and then discussed it on the phone. At the end of all this we both agreed that neither of us were totally confident of our positions. If anyone out there is still reading this blog and has some time to spare I would welcome any suggestions as to what the answer is.
The scenario is that a homeless person with children is in self contained hostel type accommodation for which the booking can be terminated at short notice. She is waiting for the council to issue a Section 184 Notice. This is taking a long time due to the complexity of the circumstances in which she became homeless. Whilst in temporary accommodation she runs up rent arrears. The council write three or four letters to her about the arrears and warn her that they will evict her if they are not paid. They only amount to £171.00 but then just before 5:00pm on 5 June they call her and tell her that they are cancelling her accommodation with effect from 6 June. She has nowhere else to go. I should add that this is a non unitary authority so they do not (as far as I am aware) owe the children of the family any duties under the Children Act 1989.
On 6 June I sent a letter before action threatening Judicial Review proceedings on the basis that the council cannot summarily evict in this way. I maintain that pending the issue of the Section 184 Notice the council remain under a mandatory duty to provide accommodation under Section 188 of the Housing Act 1996. I add that even if this duty was being treated as discharged they would still have to allow her a reasonable notice period.
The council maintain that they are entitled to terminate the temporary accommodation due to the rent arrears regardless of Section 188 and that they can treat their warning letters written over some weeks as being reasonable notice. They maintain that they can reconsider the provision of temporary accommodation if they end up issuing a positive Section 184 Notice and accepting a duty to house her. I don’t agree with this and still think that they would have to give her some sort of notification that duties were being discharged before they could treat the mandatory duty to accommodate under Section 188 as discharged and terminate her accommodation.
We settled the stand off without having to issue proceedings. This was because the Homeless Persons Unit manager conceded that they should have referred the family to the County Council Children’s Services Department before making them street homeless rather than afterwards and that he would extend the booking to allow for this.
This is only a temporary solution and still leaves the question of whether and if so in what circumstances a council can cease to provide temporary accommodation before a Section 184 notice has been issued unresolved.