Zenith Housing Current Awareness

​Samuels v Birmingham City Council: intentional homelessness and benefits

4 April 2018

Peter Yates

On 19th February 2018 the Supreme Court granted permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision in Samuels v Birmingham City Council [2015] EWCA Civ 1051. The case raises important questions about intentional homelessness, affordability, and benefits.

The Appellant had been a tenant of the Respondent, and had lived in the property with four children. In July 2011 she left the property, having been given notice due to arrears of rent. In June 2012 she made her first homelessness application to the Respondent. She supplied a previously completed income and expenditure form which indicated that the balance of monthly rent for the property, after receipt of housing benefit, had been £151.49. The other items of expenditure were “food/household items £150, electricity £40, gas £50, school meals £20, travel costs & maintenance £60, telephone £20, and daughter's gymnastics £40”. She had been in receipt of “child tax credits of £189 a week (i.e. £819 a month), income support of £67 a week (i.e. £290.33 a month) and child benefit of £240 a month”. The Respondent concluded that the property had been affordable and that she was intentionally homeless. That decision was upheld on review, and the review was not challenged.

In July 2013, having been evicted from temporary accommodation, the Appellant made a further homelessness application. In response to enquiries, she confirmed that the income and expenditure information she had given in the course of the previous application was correct. It was refused. On review, the Appellant provided amended financial information. The income figures and rent shortfall remained the same, but the other expenditure figures were said to be as follows: “food/household items £750, electricity £80, gas £100, clothes £50, TV licence £43.33, school meals £43.33, travel costs & maintenance £108.33, telephone £20, daughter's gymnastics £40”.

The Respondent’s review decision again concluded that the Appellant was intentionally homeless. It accepted that the initial figure which had been given for household expenses - £150 – was likely to be inaccurate, but contended that the new figure of £750 was excessive. The reviewer was of the opinion that the Appellant ought to have been able to manage her finances in such a way as to meet the rental shortfall.

The appeal

Before the Court of Appeal the Appellant advanced several grounds of appeal. This post focuses only on one; the extent to which different forms of benefits can be taken into account in the assessment of affordability.

The Appellant contended that in assessing affordability, decision makers should have as their starting point the proposition that benefits are set at subsistence level, and with a particular expense in mind. These benefits, it was said, are not designed to give flexibility in expenditure beyond a very basic standard of living. In particular, the Appellant contended that income support, child tax credits and child benefit are not intended to cover housing costs; that is what housing benefit is for. The purpose of child tax credit and child benefit is to support the upbringing of children. The Appellant argued that that purpose is likely to be undermined if some of those benefits were diverted to pay for housing costs. It followed, said the Appellant, that the starting point should be that reasonable living expenses are matched by benefits income and that there is no flexibility within such income for the payment of additional housing costs.

The Court of Appeal rejected this contention. The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 1996 and the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities “make clear that in determining whether it would be, or would have been, reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation, account should be taken of whether the accommodation is affordable and, in particular, of all forms of income (including social security benefits of all kinds) and of relevant expenses (including rent and other reasonable living expenses)” (my emphasis). This, said the Court of Appeal, suggests that a judgment has to be made on the basis of income and expenses as a whole.

The point is an interesting – and plainly important – one. Practitioners will wait with interest to see if it is one which attracts the Supreme Court.

Current Awareness

By the Housing team