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Council Had No Power to Reverse Final Homelessness Decision

When official bodies make final decisions that affect your rights, the law generally does not permit them to later change their minds. The Court of Appeal succinctly made that point in a homelessness case of interest to social landlords.

The case concerned a Romanian national who suffered from disabilities that affected his ability to work. After he sought housing, a London borough accepted that he was eligible for assistance, in that he was in priority need and not intentionally homeless. The borough, however, maintained that he had no local connection to its area, but that such a connection existed with another local authority area. The matter was referred to the local authority’s housing department on that basis.

The local authority refused to accept the reference because it had previously rejected the man’s housing application. The borough aligned itself with that position by purporting to reverse its earlier decision, this time finding that the man did not qualify for priority housing. After the man instructed solicitors, however, the latter decision was subsequently overturned by a judge.

In dismissing the borough’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted that there is a strong and obvious public policy in finality, which allows individuals to rely on official decisions without having to worry that they might later be changed. The borough’s first decision was final and, having conclusively exercised its decision-making power, it had no jurisdiction to revisit the matter and reach an opposite conclusion.

The Court acknowledged that final decisions may subsequently be changed if they have been infected by fraud or a fundamental mistake of fact. However, neither of those exceptions applied to the man’s case. What had occurred was a rethink on the same facts and it was insufficient for the borough to argue that it had come to believe that its first decision was wrong.

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