LEGAL EAGLE: There is no right to housing

One of the most common misconceptions in housing law is that the council owes everyone a duty of accommodation and you would never end up sleeping on the streets. Sadly, this isn't quite right and I find myself correcting people on a daily basis.

We see many housing clients who have had problems in their tenancy for several years but haven’t addressed these because they mistakenly believe that even if they lose their home the council will have to give them somewhere else to stay.

In reality, there is no automatic right to housing even if you are street homeless. The council only owe you a duty of accommodation when the criteria set out in the Housing Act 1996 is met.

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In order to make a successful homeless application, you must be able to show:

l You are eligible for assistance. You are usually eligible if you are a British citizen and have always lived in the UK.

l Y ou have a connection to the local area. You must be able to show the local authority that you have lived in the area for a long time, or you have family or employment which links you to the area.

l You are homeless or have been threatened with homelessness.

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l You are in priority need. This means that you are vulnerable because of a medical condition, or other circumstances.

l You are not intentionally homeless. You must be able to show that you haven’t lost your previous accommodation because of your own actions. If you have been evicted because of rent arrears, or anti-social behaviour, you may be considered intentionally homeless.

Unless you the local authority are satisfied that you meet this criteria you will probably not be owed a duty of long term accommodation, and would need to arrange your own place to stay.

We often take calls from people when their homeless application has been rejected by the council, and usually this is on the basis of intentional homelessness. There is a process to challenge the local authority’s decision, and you usually have 21 days to request a review of the decision. This usually involves writing to the council to set out the reasons why you disagree with the decision. There is sometimes legal aid available for this, which means that you might be able to get a solicitor to help you request a review and you will not have to pay any legal fees. If the council uphold their decision after reviewing it, there are sometimes circumstances when you can apply to the county court to ask a Judge to review the decision. If your homeless application has been refused, a specialist housing solicitor will be able to give you detailed advice on challenging this.

l Bethany Symonds is a trainee solicitor in David Gray Solicitors’ Housing Team. You can contact Bethany on 0191 232 9547 for an appointment or ChatLive via the website.