Pam Douglas is a solicitor with local firm Wainwright & Cummins. Each month, she takes a common enquiry and asks colleagues to answer it for readers
My colleagues have been hearing increasing numbers of disturbing accounts recently of families with children facing homelessness being told by their local authority that they can house their children, but not them. Essentially, these families are living under this cruel threat of their children being separated from them and taken into care. Siobhan Livingstone, from our housing team, provides some advice and insights to assist anyone facing this terrible dilemma
The reality is that some families who have been evicted are deemed to be “intentionally homeless” – which means that the council is not under any duty of care to rehouse them.
What does “intentionally homeless” mean? Basically, that you’ve lost your home through your own fault, due to something that you deliberately did, or failed to do.
Typically, we see people who have fallen into rent or mortgage arrears, often following a spouse or partner leaving the home. In such cases, it’s important to highlight the circumstances as, in some cases, you will not be found to be “intentionally homeless”. These might include situations where you were reliant on your spouse’s income to pay the rent or when you were forced to use rent or mortgage money to pay for food, water and heating.
Other examples include where the rent or mortgage only became unaffordable to you after you had moved in – for instance, due to an unforeseen rate increase, or if arrears were due to delays in the benefit system which you tried to chase up and can provide evidence that you did, or if you have become unable to cope due to illness or disability.
Whatever the reason for your arrears, you should make your homeless application to the council as soon as you are threatened with eviction and not leave your home until you are served with a possession order or you are evicted by bailiffs.
If you leave without applying for housing and before you legally have to, the council can decide that you are “intentionally homeless” and refuse to help you.
If children are involved, their rights to secure accommodation are protected under Children Act 1989 and, for this reason, there must be a referral to social services in certain circumstances.
But local authorities also have a duty under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (right to family life) which has been at the centre of many successful legal challenges. The case law that has arisen emphasises that councils have a duty to help families to stay together.
The Homelessness Reduction Act, due to come into force in April 2018, will also go some way to alleviate the situation by placing a duty on councils to intervene at an earlier stage to prevent homelessness, and to assist families for an extended period of time.
This is not an issue to take any chances with and we advise anyone facing these circumstances to immediately seek advice from a suitably qualified and experienced housing lawyer.
As usual, if we can help with this, or any other legal matter, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.