The last few years have seen a trend of London Councils moving homeless families out of London, sometimes to places hundreds of miles away. This has happened for a number of reasons including a change in the law (following the Localism Act 2011) which allows Councils to discharge their duties to homeless families by making them an offer of accommodation in the private rented sector as well as the introduction of the benefit cap and increase in rental costs in the Capital, making it more difficult to find affordable housing in London.
Homeless applicants have been trying to challenge the decisions of London Councils to move them far away from the support networks, friends, family, their children’s schools etc but, until recently, those challenges have been unsuccessful.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court stepped in with the case of Nzolameso v Westminster City Council. The Council had accepted a duty to the family but then offered them accommodation near Milton Keynes, around 50 miles away from Westminster. When the family had refused the offer of accommodation, the Council discharged their duties to the family and the children were placed into foster care.
Westminster had justified their decision to move the family so far away by advising that the Westminster area was suffering from a severe shortage of housing and so they could not offer accommodation in borough to every household. The Council did not explain what, if any, efforts they had made to try and find accommodation in Westminster, or somewhere nearer than 50 miles away.
The Supreme Court concluded that councils should accommodate within their borough wherever possible. If they cannot accommodate in borough, they should try and accommodate as close to where the applicant was previously living as possible. The Court also advised that councils are under a duty to promote the welfare of children (under section 11 Children Act 2004), and that this duty must be taken into account when finding accommodation for a homeless family.
There will be times when it is appropriate to move a family out of the borough, such as where the family is fleeing violence or where the family chooses to move away from the area. However, councils will now struggle to justify themselves if they continue to routinely try to move vulnerable families out of London.
Since the decision in Nzolameso, some councils have withdrawn decisions to move families out of London. However, at the same time they have sent applicants letters advising that the waiting time for accommodation in London will be considerable and that the standards of accommodation are quite low, inviting families to ‘choose’ to move out of London in any event. If you have applied as homeless and the council is trying to move you out of London, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.