Their Lordships held that Birmingham City Council had been entitled to decide that overcrowded families were homeless but to leave them there in the short term; it was a question of fact what term was too long. The House of Lords allowed the appeal by Birmingham City Council from the Court of Appeal affirming Mr Justice Collins who had allowed claims by, inter alia, Mr Abdishakur Aweys, Ms Amina Abdulle, Mr Muhidin Adam, Ms Nimo Sharif, Mr Abdiladif Mohammed Ali and Ms Helena Omar for judicial review of the way the council had dealt with their homelessness applications.
In the Birmingham case six families, each with at least six children, had been living in accommodation that had become seriously overcrowded.
The council had accepted that they were unintentionally homeless and in priority need. Nevertheless, they had been left in that accommodation for many months or even years before permanent accommodation had been found for them.
Common to both cases was the question of the meaning of the phrase accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy in section 175(3) of the 1996 Act. Did it mean that a person was only homeless if it would not be reasonable for him to stay where he was for another night, or did it incorporate some element of looking to the future, so that he might be homeless if it was not reasonable to expect him to stay where he was indefinitely or for the foreseeable future?
In essence, the councils approach in the Birmingham case had been that they could discharge their duty by leaving the families in their existing homes until suitable permanent accommodation could be found.
Coupled with that had been their policy for allocating the limited stock of housing available to them for permanent letting. Homeless households whom they had placed in temporary accommodation were placed in the highest priority band A, while such households for whom they had not arranged such accommodation, including families such as these, were placed in band B.
The language of both sections 175(3) and 191(1) of the 1996 Act suggested looking to the future as well as to the present. Those linguistic reasons were reinforced by the policy of the Act.
Section 175(3) had been introduced for a case like that of the family in R v Hillingdon London Council, Ex parte Puhlhofer ( AC 484]), who could no doubt have been expected to stay a little while longer in their cramped accommodation but not for the length of time that they would have to stay there if the local authority did not intervene.
Lord Hoffmanns observations in R v Brent London Borough Council, Ex parte Awua (The Times July 7, 1995;  AC 55, 68A-C) emphasised that accommodation that might be unreasonable for a person to occupy for a long period might be reasonable for him to occupy for a short period.
Accommodation under section 193(2) was a kind of staging post along the way to permanent accommodation. Birmingham had been entitled to decide that the families were homeless even though they could stay where they were for a little while, but they had not been entitled to leave them there indefinitely.
There had been bound to come a time when their accommodation could no longer be described as suitable in the discharge of the duty under section 193(2). It was a question turning on the particular facts whether in any particular case the period was simply too long.
Ashley Underwood QC was leading Counsel for Birmingham City Council