By Prof Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
The onset of Covid-19 gave rise to a massive effort to provide health care services and accommodation for homeless persons. This includes not just those people who are rough sleeping, but also those otherwise at risk without a home, such as those living in hostels and B&B accommodation. A range of organisations have assisted in this process, from medical health professionals to local authorities, who have procured empty hotels and other spaces for homeless persons to self-isolate as well as acted on the government’s guidance to keep temporary accommodation open.
In this post, I consider whether homeless persons who come to the attention of the local authority should be regarded as having made an “application” for homelessness assistance. The homelessness legislation is one of the most litigated areas in public law, and I have recently drawn attention to the supposed cultural change brought about by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018. It is particularly relevant to students taking our unit in Rich Law, Poor Law, or engaging in work with our law clinic. (more…)
By Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School).
Following a commission from Shelter, the housing charity, Dave Cowan and Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn, University of Bristol Law School, and Helen Carr and Ed Kirton-Darling, University of Kent Law School, conducted research into the law and practice around housing standards. Their conclusions – which draw on 940 responses to a questionnaire from professionals, landlords and occupiers – make for stark reading about the deficiencies in our current law. This is the Executive Summary to the report. The full report can be found at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/research/grenfell/.
The law relating to health and safety in people’s homes is piecemeal, out-dated, complex, dependent upon tenure, and patchily enforced. It makes obscure distinctions, which have little relationship with everyday experiences of poor conditions. Tenants wanting to remedy defects face numerous and often insurmountable barriers to justice. The law needs to evolve; no longer should occupiers be treated as posing health and safety risks; instead they should be treated as consumers of housing with enforceable rights to ensure minimum standards are adhered to. The state needs to accept its role as the primary enforcer of those standards.
Not only does the law require reform, there also needs to be a cultural change, so that those responsible for the health and safety of occupiers become pro-active in fulfilling those responsibilities.
We recommend a new Housing (Health and Safety in the Home) Act which is tenure neutral, modern and relevant to contemporary health and safety issues, and which encourages and provides resources for pro-activity by statutory authorities. In particular, the Act should
- Strengthen duties on local authorities to review housing and enforce housing health and safety standards
- Introduce a legal duty to review and update all guidance relating to health and safety in the home every three years
- Provide routes for occupiers to require local authorities to carry out housing health and safety assessments
- Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing enforcement action being taken against local authority landlords and remove unnecessary procedural barriers which undermine the current regime
- Consolidate and up-date existing law
- Place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations
- Provide routes for occupiers to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions
- Strengthen remedies against retaliatory eviction
Such an Act, either working alongside or incorporating a Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, would not only improve health and safety outcomes for occupiers, it would signify also that, as a society, we accept responsibility for those standards.
By Prof Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)*
Applicants for homelessness assistance who are aggrieved by a local authority’s discretionary decision against their interests, can request a review of that decision. These reviews are an incredibly important part of the homelessness decision-making process – a negative decision made by a local authority can leave an applicant with what one Judge has described as the “mark of Cain”. An applicant who does not seek a review cannot appeal a negative decision; if the applicant does appeal their decision, but fails to make all the relevant points, judicial guidance is that such matters cannot be raised on a subsequent appeal. So, both substance and procedure are in play at this crucial stage of internal review.
Since the early 1990s, myself and my colleagues Caroline Hunter and Simon Halliday, (both currently at York Law School) have conducted research in to homelessness internal reviews—on which we published The Appeal of Internal Review. Law, Administrative Justice and the (non-) Emergence of Disputes (Hart 2003) and ‘Adjudicating the implementation of homelessness law: The promise of socio-legal studies’ (2006) 21(3) Housing studies 381. Our research has been both qualitative and quantitative. (more…)