Today the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Samuels v Birmingham City Council [2019] UKSC. Brooke Lyne appeared, being led, for the respondent authority.

Ms Samuels applied to the local authority for homelessness assistance under Part VII, Housing Act 1996. The authority decided that she was homeless intentionally from her previous settled accommodation. Ms Samuels contended that it was not reasonable for her to continue to occupy the accommodation because it was unaffordable.

Ms Samuels was in receipt of welfare benefits; housing benefit, income support, child tax credits and child benefit. There was a shortfall of £151.49 per month between her housing benefit and her contractual rent.

Ms Samuels argued that it was wrong in principle for the authority to treat non-housing benefits as available to meet the shortfall between her housing benefit and rent. Further, the authority had incorrectly interpreted para 17.40 of the statutory guidance. The guidance recommended that the applicant should not be left with a residual income less than the applicable amount of income support. Ms Samuels contended that “income support” meant old-style income support that included premia for children. The additional amounts for children had been replaced by distinct benefits for children (child tax credits and child benefit) following the introduction of the Tax Credits Act 2002.

The Supreme Court rejected the appellant’s submission that non-housing benefits ought to be excluded from the affordability assessment. But, the assessment requires a comparison with the applicant’s “reasonable living expenses” and what is reasonable requires an objective assessment: it cannot depend simply on the subjective view of the case officer. The court accepted that benefits are not generally designed to provide a surplus above the subsistence needs of a family.

The court did not consider it necessary to give a final determination as to the correct interpretation of para 17.40 of the guidance because even if it referred to income support only (i.e. without the additional amounts for children), then the level of other benefits was clearly relevant to the affordability assessment.

On the facts of the case under appeal the review officer had not adopted the correct approach. Rather than considering whether there had been sufficient flexibility in the applicant’s budget to meet the rent shortfall, the reviewer ought to have considered what the applicant’s reasonable living expenses were.

To read the full judgment, please click here.

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