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Homelessness – What Qualifies as Reasonable Accommodation?

FlatsWhat qualifies as an offer of reasonable accommodation to a homeless person? The High Court addressed that thorny issue in ruling that a sex trafficking victim could not reasonably be expected to live in a flat the communal gardens of which were used as an illegal open-air brothel.

The woman was pregnant as a result of being forcibly raped when she fled to Britain to escape sexual exploitation. After she was granted refugee status, a local authority accepted that she was homeless, not intentionally so and in priority need. It therefore owed a duty to offer her suitable accommodation under Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996.

Following periods in temporary accommodation and her eviction from a property through no fault of her own, the council granted the woman a tenancy of the flat. Its garden was used for drug-dealing and sexual activity which could be seen by the woman and her young daughter. Witnessing such criminal behaviour was said to have had a detrimental impact on both mother’s and daughter’s mental health.

After judicial review proceedings were launched on the woman’s behalf, the Court found that a flat in a vicinity notorious for street prostitution and the narcotics trade was not suitable accommodation for a child or for a woman who was a survivor of sex trafficking. The council had thus acted unlawfully in breach of its duty under Section 193.

A previous offer of accommodation had not met the requirements of Section 193 due to the council’s failure to send the woman a formal letter detailing the terms on which she occupied the property. Following the launch of proceedings, the council had agreed to place the woman’s name on its housing waiting list and to backdate her entry to the date on which it first accepted that it owed her a duty.

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