Council Housing Offers Must Be Suitable for the Whole Household

A 52-year-old single mother with five children, Ms Nzolameso, has obtained a ruling that is of importance to councils and their tenants alike.

Ms Nzolameso was evicted when she could no longer pay the rent on her four-bedroom private sector leased property in Westminster after her housing benefit was cut. Westminster Council accepted that it had a housing responsibility for her as a homeless person with children.

However, the Council did not have suitable housing available locally, so it offered Ms Nzolameso a five-bedroom house in Bletchley as temporary accommodation. She refused the offer, mainly because it was too far away and her children would have to change schools. She also wished to retain her current GP, who is treating her for high blood pressure.

The Council considered that its action was reasonable, noting that none of her children was of GCSE age and that the property offered was of suitable size. When she refused the offer, the Council sent her a letter stating that its housing duty to her had therefore come to an end.

Ms Nzolameso challenged the Council's decision at the County Court, which refused to alter it, concluding that the Council had allocated to her the most suitable property that it had available. She appealed to the Court of Appeal and, when that appeal failed, to the Supreme Court, which appointed Lady Hale to hear the case.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Council was obliged to offer premises 'so far as reasonably practicable' to the homeless which are 'suitable for the needs of the particular homeless person and each member of her household…', a definition that includes the suitability of the location of the premises offered.

The guidance in such matters requires a council to 'try to secure accommodation as close as possible to where the applicant was previously living'.

The ruling may have profound implications for councils, particularly those in areas of high housing need and where property costs are high.

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