The Supreme Court in the recent case of Yemshaw v Hounslow LBC was called upon to interpret the word “violence” in s.177 of the Housing Act 1996 where a victim of domestic violence was refused accommodation by Hounslow LBC, because the alleged “violence” was not physical. The council decided that the victim’s refusal to return to her home because of fear of violence from her husband was insufficient for her to leave her home and therefore she could not be regarded as homeless.
Yemshaw v Hounslow LBC  UKSC 3
Facts of the case
Mrs Yemshaw (Y), a married woman with two young children left her matrimonial home in which she had lived with her husband, taking the children with her. Having nowhere else to go, she sought the help of the local housing authority (the council). The matrimonial home was rented in her husband’s sole name. In her interviews with the housing officers, she complained that “her husband hates her and (she) suspects that he is seeing another woman. [She] is scared that if she confronts him he may hit her. However her husband has never actually threatened to hit her”. She went on to complain of his shouting at her in front of the children, so that she retreated to her bedroom with them, not treating her “like a human being”, not giving her any money for housekeeping, being scared that he would take the children away from her and say that she was not able to cope with them, and that he would hit her if she returned home.
The council decided that she was not homeless as her husband had never actually hit her or threatened to do so. The council believed that “the probability of domestic violence is low". The council also found Mrs Yemshaw’s fear that “her husband will take the children away from her” to be contradictory as she had said that he took no interest in the children. The council therefore concluded that it was reasonable for her to continue to reside at her matrimonial home.
Y appealed the council’s decision following an unsuccessful request for a review. The main issue in the case was the meaning of “violence”. The council relied on Danseh v Kensington and Chelsea Royal LBC  EWCA Civ 1404 which held that physical violence is the natural meaning of the word “violence” and that it involved some sort of actual physical contact.
- The natural meaning of violence is "physical violence"; however that is not the only meaning. The word “violent” when used as an adjective can refer to a range of behaviours falling short of physical contact with the person.
- The provisions of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended) have moved on from the narrow focus upon battered wives and physical contact.
The case was remitted to the local authority to be looked at again.
- The law on domestic violence is victim orientated and as such “the reasonableness of the victim’s action is subjective".
- Violence should be broadly interpreted to include any situation which adversely affects the victim physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.
- The fear must be real or substantial, the measurement of which often is the victim's willingness to flee his/her home with no intention to return, the desire to be far away from the alleged perpetrator, etc.
- There is no requirement on the part of the local housing authority to obtain evidence from the alleged perpetrator.