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Darren Bull v Oxford City Council

Citation[2011] EWCA Civ 609

Andy Lane of Hardwicke was instructed by Turpin Miller Solicitors,  acting in the case of Darren Bull v Oxford City Council, in which the Court of Appeal judgment was handed down on the 18th May 2011.  This was a homeless case where the local authority had originally decided that Mr Bull was not in priority need and intentionally homeless (therefore only entitled to advice and assistance) despite the fact that his 3 children had left their mother and come to live with him.  In short, the authority’s view was that the mother – Mr Bull’s former wife – lived in a  3-bedroom property and could accommodate the children whereas Mr Bull resided in a shared house in which it was accepted he could not live for any length of time with his children.
At Mr Bull’s appeal at Oxford County Court HHJ Harris QC varied the local authority’s decision to reflect the fact that Mr Bull was in priority need and was not intentionally homeless.  In particular, he found that the relevant time to consider priority need was at the time of review, by which time Mr Bull and his children had been living together for many months in a house (albeit provided by the local authority under its discretionary powers) and that it could not be said that by taking in his children he had acted unreasonably or should be found intentionally homeless for so doing.  The Council appealed on both grounds.

On the question of priority need, Andy (and Kerry Bretherton) were successful in persuading the Court of Appeal to dismiss that part of the appeal.  The primary focus of the authority had been on the issue of priority need and they had argued that the family had only lived together in suitable accommodation at the time of the review decision because they had been provided with accommodation pursuant to the authority’s section 188(3) discretion.  The mother’s house was still available for the children and they were entitled to ignore the period when the family were in the interim accommodation.
The Court rejected this approach and saw no reason to depart from, or distinguish, the approach set down by the House of Lords in Mohamed-v-Hammersmith & Fulham LBC (2001) UKHL 57; (2002) 1 AC 547.  The result was that by the time of the review decision it was unarguable that the children resided with their father and as dependants it meant he was in priority need (and thus was at least owed the section 190 accommodation duty).  This decision gives important guidance on the relevant homelessness issues arising from children moving from one parent to another in separated couple cases.
The Court of Appeal allowed the local authority’s appeal in so far as the question of intentionally homeless was concerned; essentially finding that the relevant time for consideration of this issue was at the time the children moved in with their father.  This was a deliberate act on his part they found, and one which was not without choice as he could have required them to return to their mother (despite their contrary wishes). 
In relation to the intentional homelessness decision those advising Mr. Bull are considering a further appeal to the Supreme Court.