Westminster Supreme Court housing decision will affect all local authorities

All local authorities will have to publish fresh guidance on housing, following a Supreme Court judgement released today.

The UK’s highest court allowed an appeal by a mother-of-five who was made homeless by Westminster Council after she refused accommodation fifty miles away in Milton Keynes.

Titina Nzolameso argued that Westminster had failed to adequately seek suitable accommodation for her and her children in, or closer to, the borough.

Her initial legal challenge was rejected, and her children were taken into care, while she was forced into sleeping on friends’ sofas, but today, by majority decision, Lady Hale allowed the appeal, and quashed Westminster’s decision that the accommodation she had been offered was suitable.

Ms Nzolameso said: “I am very happy with today’s outcome and delighted to be reunited with my children after a long legal battle.

“When I first refused the offer of accommodation in Milton Keynes, I never envisaged that my children would be taken away from me.

“There was an obligation on the Council to offer me accommodation in the district to which I applied to or closer to it. Westminster simply failed to lawfully address that question.

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“Naturally, I am pleased that my case will now set an important precedent for homelessness applicants across the UK who are faced with important decisions, often on very short notice, to move far away from the authority or district they apply to for housing.

“I believe the decision will greatly help vulnerable groups and provide a mechanism for allowing them to see at the outset what factors are taken into consideration by a local authority when offering accommodation either in or outside the borough.”

The decision means that all local authorities will have to have a policy that anticipates housing need during the coming year, and procures sufficient temporary accommodation.

Ms Nzolameso’s solicitor, Jayesh Kunwardia of Hodge Jones & Allen, said the decision will have a significant positive impact on homeless families nationwide, and may even lead to more government funding for social housing.

He said: “This is an important victory for my client and her children.

“It is only fair and just that the earlier County Court and Court of Appeal decision has been set aside as it set a terrible precedent for local authorities to adopt a practice of allocating housing to vulnerable people without due regard to their statutory duties and obligations.

“Westminster, like other councils, is under great financial pressure and I would urge politicians on the campaign trail to take note and think long and hard about council and social housing funding; budget cuts will not be tolerated by the courts as an excuse to move homeless families miles away from their friends and support networks.

“The decision will have an impact on every London borough, or any local authority in the country.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how local authorities approach this.”

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