The question of whether a woman who is staying in a women’s refuge is entitled to be treated as homeless and rehoused by a local authority still comes up from time to time. Women who apply to local authorities for accommodation as homeless persons whilst staying in a refuge are sometimes wrongly advised by council staff that they are not entitled to assistance. The reason given for this is that they are living in a refuge so they are not homeless.
The legal position is set out in Section 175 (1) of the Housing Act 1996 which provides that a person is homeless if she has no accommodation available for her occupation.
Section 175 (3) provides that a person shall not be treated as having accommodation available to them unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable to continue to occupy.
It should go without saying that the accommodation which the woman left because of domestic violence can’t be treated as reasonable for her to continue to occupy. If it does need saying then Section specifically provides that it is not reasonable for someone to occupy accommodation where they would be at risk of domestic violence. This leaves the question of whether a refuge where they won’t be at risk of violence can be treated as accommodation such that the applicant is not entitled to be treated as homeless.
In Birmingham City Council v Ali and Others; Moran v Manchester City Council 2009 the Supreme Court The Supreme Court held that refuge accommodation would generally not be reasonable for them to continue to occupy for more than a short time.
A Women’s Refuge is not reasonable to continue to occupy for anything other than a short term for a number of reasons including:-
- It is usually never intended to be anything more than a temporary haven which someone will only stay in on an emergency basis.
- The rules required to maintain secrecy and protect residents from violent partners, such as not having guests or telling people where you are staying are incompatible with what is considered to be a home.
- Refuges are unlikely to be appropriate places for children to live.