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Lords find that family courts should not exert pressure on local authority housing

Judgment published in Holmes-Moorhouse v LB of Richmond

Family courts should not make orders that need housing assistance to make them effective, the House of Lords decided last week.

They published their judgment in the case of Holmes-Moorhouse v London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames [2009] UKHL 7 in which the local authority appealed against a Court of Appeal ruling that one of their housing officers had misdirected themselves in not taking account of a shared residence order when refusing housing for a separated father. Giving the lead judgment Lord Hoffman concluded that the local authority is

“entitled to decide that it was not reasonable to expect children who were not in any sense homeless to be able to live with both mother and father in separate accommodation”

and that

“it is not the business of a court exercising jurisdiction under the 1989 Act to try to exert pressure upon a housing authority to provide resources for one or other of the parties”

He is supported by Baroness Hale who added that

“Family court orders are meant to provide practical solutions to the practical problems faced by separating families…… Ideally there may be many cases where it would be best for the children to have a home with each of their parents. But this is not always or even usually practicable. Family courts have no power to conjure up resources where none exist."

In Lord Hoffman's view, the supplementary judgment of Baroness Hale and Lord Neuberger are

"required reading by family court judges dealing with residence orders and County Court judges hearing appeals under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996 respectively"

The full text of the House of Lords judgment and the related Court of Appeal judgment are available on Family Law Week. We have also published a commentary on the judgment, by Byron James of Guildford Chambers, available here.


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