This appeal considered whether the respondent was entitled to treat the appellant as intentionally homeless on the basis that part of her income from subsistence benefits was available to meet the shortfall between her contractual rent and the housing benefit awarded to her, and whether sufficient reasons were given for this decision.
The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal.
The Court held that the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 1996 requires the authority to take into account all sources of income, including all social security benefits, and there is nothing in it to require or justify the exclusion of non-housing benefits of any kind. It also requires consideration of the applicant’s “reasonable living expenses”, which necessitates an objective assessment. The Court considered that the review officer in Ms Samuel’s case asked whether there was sufficient “flexibility” to enable her to cope with the shortfall between her rent and her housing benefit, but that the question ought to have been what her reasonable living expenses were, to be determined having regard to both her needs and those of the children. The Court determined that it was difficult to see how Ms Samuels’ expenses could be regarded as unreasonable, concluding that it was hard to see on what basis the finding of intentional homelessness could be properly upheld. As such the Court hoped that on reconsideration the council will be able to accept full responsibility under Part VII of the 1996 Act for Ms Samuels and her family.
The Court considered various issues in relation to affordability, holding that:
(a) Article 2 of the Suitability Order requires all sources of income - including all type of welfare benefits - to be taken into account and an authority is not restricted to considering Housing Benefit as the only benefit intended to cover accommodation costs.
(b) However, it is relevant that welfare benefit levels are generally not designed to provide a surplus about subsistence needs.
(c) Further, the question in relation to living expenses is only whether they are objectively reasonable, to be determined having regard to the welfare of any children, and the authority cannot take into account the subjective views of its officer or ask itself whether it is somehow possible for the applicant to bridge any shortfall.
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