Campaigners welcome Supreme Court ruling on mother forced into homelessness

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Campaigners have welcomed a ruling by the UK’s highest court in the case of a mother-of-four forced into homelessness after she was unable to afford her rent.

Terryann Samuels was declared “intentionally homeless” by Birmingham City Council (pictured) in 2011 after she fell into arrears because of a shortfall between her housing benefit and rent.

The council concluded the £700 a month rent for her home in West Bromwich was “affordable” because she had “flexibility” in her household budget, made up of other welfare benefits including child tax credits, to cover the shortfall.

But, in a ruling on Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices quashed the council’s decision.

They said Ms Samuels should not have had to use her benefits to make up the difference because her other living expenses, including the money she spent on meeting her children’s needs, were “reasonable”.

Lord Carnwath, giving the lead ruling, said he hoped the Government would give “clearer guidance” to local authorities having to decide such matters in light of the court’s judgment.

The judge added: “I find it hard to see on what basis the finding of intentional homelessness could be properly upheld.

“I therefore express the hope that, five years on, the process can be short-circuited and the council will on reconsideration be able to accept full responsibility under (housing legislation) for Ms Samuels and her family.”

He said the family have been in temporary accommodation, provided by the council, since the initial decision.

Two charities which supported Ms Samuels’ case said they were pleased with the court’s ruling.

Martin Williams, a welfare rights adviser for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said: “What this means is that families made homeless due to the inability to pay rent because of cuts to housing related benefits cannot be said to be intentionally homeless.

“There is no slack in the budgets of those on out of work benefits to make up shortfalls in housing related benefits.

“Benefit payments are set a bare minimum level for the basic essentials – no mother should have to see her children go short of essentials in order to pay the rent.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said: “We’re very pleased to see the court recognise that it’s not lawful to expect families to rely on money they need for their basic living expenses to pay their rent when their housing benefit can’t cover it.

“This is an important judgment for the future of the welfare system.

“When someone is forced to choose between rent and keeping their children fed, they cannot be viewed as ‘intentionally’ homeless when they choose the latter.

“Housing benefit cuts mean it has not kept pace with rents for years, it now doesn’t cover a modest rent in a shocking 97% of the country, and cases like this are the result.

“We are hearing from more and more families who are choosing between rent and absolute necessities like heating and food.

“We urge the Government to lift the freeze and make sure benefits cover at least the lowest third of the rental market.”

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