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Is the concept of ‘intentional homelessness’ incompatible with human rights?

There may be another way ...A question asked by our regular guest blogger, Samir Jeraj:

A few weeks back I was talking to a friend who works in a housing association. He’d been on a Europe-wide conference about housing and homelessness.

During the day the attendees got talking about how the UK has the concept of ‘intentional homelessness’, which was apparently treated with shock by housing professionals outside the UK. They thought that this would clearly violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

According to Shelter, you’re intentionally homeless if you’re judged by your local council to have done the following:

  •  you deliberately did (or didn’t do) something
  • that caused you to leave accommodation
  • which you could otherwise have stayed in, and
  • it would have been reasonable for you to stay there.

As you can imagine, this covers many situations ranging from domestic violence to arrears, to anti-social behaviour. I personally remember a case where a local authority initially refused to house two young men as they were deemed to be intentionally homeless – in their case they had been driven out of their town by a local drug dealer.

Anyhow, I figured that there must be some case law on this in the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, Article 8 of the ECHR, which states:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The McCann case

The leading case McCann Vs UK [2008] relates to a situation where a relationship breakdown and domestic violence led to a legal order for Mr McCann to leave the house.

Once Mrs McCann and their children had been re-housed, Mr McCann moved back into their former home. Their relationship subsequently improved to the extent that Mrs McCann agreed to support Mr McCann’s application to swap the council home for a smaller home.

A housing officer from the local council went to see Mrs McCann and got her to sign a notice to quit, which meant Mr McCann would not be able to seek a transfer. The Council eventually obtained a possession order and evicted Mr McCann.

The ECtHR found that Article 8 had been breached and awarded damages to Mr McCann.

The Bah case

In another case Bah vs UK [2011], the ECtHR found in favour of Southwark Council, who had refused housing to a family on the basis that one of their children was subject to immigration controls (he had been given indefinite leave to remain).

The Nearly Legal website has an excellent analysis of this here.

So, what do you think?

I’m just a layman when it comes to the law, so I turn it over to you – the legal and housing professionals out there. Is the concept of ‘intentional homelessness’ compatible with human rights?

Homeless Bill picture

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2 Responses to Is the concept of ‘intentional homelessness’ incompatible with human rights?

  1. Article 8 does not, generally, provide any right to a house – it is about respect for the home that you already have. If you have already lost your home art.8 is going to be of very little use, so I don’t see that the concept of intentional homelessness offends against art.8.

  2. human rights are mare to be honest, subject to so many nuances. I teach housing law but dont pretend to be an expert on human rights. However my understanding is that the European Convention on Human Rights isnt intended to interfere with legitimate pursuits under domestic law.

    Aspects of individual cases can be deemed incompatible with the ECHR but not the whole of a law. The McCann judgement was such a case. In that particular instance it was the circumstances specific to Mr McCann’s case that were incompatible not the notion of one joint tenant terminating unilaterally.

    Also, as you have helpfully raised Article 8. Look to the line that says “There shall be no interference by a public authority”. I would argue that an intentional homeless decision isnt a public body interfering with someone’s home – merely refusing a housing duty.

    In all high profile housing/article 8 cases such as Pinnock, Kay, Donaghue etc the issues were about public bodies evicting people, which would come under interfering with someone’s home.

    Article 1 of the first protocol is also raised, – interference with a person’s possessions.

    Right thats my stab at an answer, now I’ll wait to be pulled apart by my betters who will no doubt tell me I’ve got it skewed haha



About the post author:

Samir Jeraj

Samir Jeraj is a journalist with a focus on issues in private rented housing. He was a Green Party councillor in Norwich from 2008-2012. Find out more about Samir on his website and connect with him on Google+

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