Jay Shaw An analysis of the Supreme Court decision on domestic violence in Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow [2011] and the implications of the ruling, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, 28 March 2011. Available at: https://bit.ly/2N3Metl


The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that 'violence' in homelessness cases includes psychological as well as physical abuse in the case of Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow [2011] UKSC 3. The issue the case presented was whether the word 'violence' in s.177 (1) of the Housing Act 1996 was limited to physical contact or whether its scope extended to other forms of violent conduct.

Homelessness is governed by Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 and generally provides that a Local Authority must provide an Applicant accommodation if they are deemed to be homeless unintentionally. A person is considered to be homeless if they have no accommodation available to them, unless it would be reasonable for them to continue to occupy their accommodation. Whilst a number of factors are taken into consideration when determining reasonableness, s.177(1) of the Act states that it is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation if it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence or other violence against them or other members of their household. This had the effect of practically 'pass porting' individuals to be entitled to accommodation from the Local Authority if they are at risk of violence, as they were automatically deemed to be unintentionally 'homeless' however reasonable it might be for them in other respects. 

It was held by the Court of Appeal in the case of Danesh v Kensington and Chelsea Royal London Borough Council [2006] EWCA Civ 104 [2007] 1 WLR 69 that 'violence' involved some form of physical contact, thereby excluding other acts such as threats of violence or gestures which may lead someone to fear physical violence. This was therefore the default position of the Court.

However, the subject case presented a challenge to this definition. The facts of the case, in brief, involved a wife leaving the matrimonial home with the parties' two children and seeking the assistance of the Local Authority to accommodate them. The wife did not allege any physical violence but contended that she could not continue to reside at the matrimonial home due to her husband's behaviour, which included shouting at her in front of the children and being fearful that he may become violent if she confronted him, which she claimed amounted to emotional and psychological abuse. The Local Authority decided that she was not homeless for the purposes of the 1996 Act as her husband had never actually hit her or threatened to do so and further considered the probability of domestic violence to be low, meaning it would therefore be reasonable for her to continue residing at the matrimonial home. The decision was appealed on the basis that it would not be reasonable for her to continue to occupy the property with her husband as 'domestic violence' included emotional or psychological abuse.

The case eventually came before the Supreme Court, where the Applicant's appeal succeeded as it was held that physical violence is one natural meaning of the word 'violence', not the only one. The meaning of 'domestic violence' had therefore developed considerably from the stereotypical and narrow focus upon battered wives and physical contact, as it now included "physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour or any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of harm."

It is clear that over time, both international and national legislative interpretation of the term 'violence' has developed far beyond physical contact and in the current context, has met its purpose in ensuring that a person is not obliged to remain living in a home where they, or others, are at risk of harm. The decision also aligns housing and homelessness law with family law, which already recognises that domestic violence include psychological abuse. 

However, the decision is now set to test the Local Authorities already limited resources as they will now be obliged to provide housing to a wider pool of people following the Supreme Court's decision.