Local authority housing lawyers will potentially have to review thousands of applications for accommodation after the Supreme Court widened the scope of vulnerable applicants who are considered homeless.

Giving judgment in the appeals Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark and Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council [2015] UKSC 30, the Supreme Court said councils should compare applicants with ‘an ordinary person if made homeless, not an ordinary actual homeless person’.

Under section 188 of the Housing Act 1996, local authorities have a duty to ensure accommodation is made available for applicants who are homeless and have priority need.

The court also said financial pressures should not influence decisions on applications made by homeless people claiming to be vulnerable and in priority need.

The judgment states that a local authority’s duty under part seven of the Housing Act 1996 ‘is not to be influenced or affected by the resources available to the authority.

‘Once they have determined the status of an applicant under [part seven], their duty to that applicant is as defined in the act: the fact that the authority may be very short of money and/or available accommodation cannot in any way affect whether an applicant is in priority need.’

Lawyers in Local Government housing spokesperson Alison Stuart said: ‘With unprecedented austerity pressures, an ever-increasing housing crisis and now a possible influx of more applicants satisfying the vulnerability criteria, this judgment will clearly affect how councils deal with future homelessness decisions, and careful consideration on how the local authority satisfies its duties, responsibilities, and obligations to the most vulnerable members of society.’

Stuart said financial considerations were ‘paramount’ and the judgment placed local authorities with a ‘huge’ responsbility, especially in light of an earlier Supreme Court judgment, Nzolameso v City of Westminster 2015 UKSC 22, which tightened rules relating to local authorities providing accommodation outside their own districts to those they owed a housing duty.

But Stuart said ‘some comfort’ was provided by Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger’s remark within the judgment that 'an appeal against a review cannot succeed in every case where the wrong comparator has been invoked or a wrong legal assumption is made’.