This decision concerns the duties of local housing authorities under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 towards persons rendered homeless by domestic violence. The case was joined with that of Birmingham CC v Ali & Ors, which also concerned Part 7 duties. The House of Lords, whose judgment was prepared jointly by Baroness Hale and Lord Neuberger, ruled that local authorities owed duties to those whose accommodation was not suitable for indefinite occupation, even if said accommodation was suitable in the shorter term. Thus, in Moran, a woman evicted from a refuge for victims of domestic violence by reason of her conduct could not be regarded as intentionally homeless because it would not have been reasonable for her to occupy the refuge indefinitely.

Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 imposes upon local housing authorities obligations, inter alia, to “secure that accommodation is available for occupation by” persons facing the immediate problem of homelessness (section 193), who have not rendered themselves intentionally homeless. Section 175 of the Act provides, inter alia, that “(3) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy” and “(4) A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days”. The Act makes clear (section 177) that “(1) It is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation if it is probable that this will lead to domestic violence [including the threat of violence] or other violence against him, or against – (a) a person who normally resides with him as a member of his family, or (b) any other person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him”. Had the Appellant approached the Respondent for accommodation at the point at which she left her violent partner she would have fallen within section 177. In the event, prior to her approach to the Respondent she had been accommodated by the refuge. 
The question which arose in the joined cases was whether a person would be homeless for the purposes of section 175(3) only if it would not be reasonable for her to stay where she was for another night. Baroness Hale traced the historical background to the legislation (the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and the decision in Puhlhofer v Hillingdon London Borough Council [1986] AC 484 that that 1977 Act did not require accommodation to be appropriate or reasonable in order to prevent its occupiers from being regarded as “homeless”, by virtue of which the 1996 Act and its 1985 predecessor included the equivalent of section 175). She ruled (paras 36-37) that sections 175(3) and 191(1) were directed to the future as well as to the present with the effect that persons who could be expected to stay for some time, but not indefinitely, in unsuitable accommodation could be regarded as homeless by virtue of section 175(3). Thus, in the case of over-crowded or otherwise physically unsuitable accommodation, “the council can accept that a family is homeless even though they can actually get by where they are for a little while longer [and] can begin the hunt for more suitable accommodation for them”, rather than having to leave it “until the family could not stay there any longer” at which point the family would have to move to temporary (bed and breakfast) accommodation while the council sought alternative accommodation for them (para 38). In the Moran case this approach (para 43) “has the advantage that a woman who has lost her home because of domestic violence remains homeless even though she has a roof over her head in the refuge”.
Baroness Hale took an explicitly purposive approach to the construction of section 175(3) in the domestic violence context, pointing out the concerns expressed by the Women’s Aid Federation of England as to the “‘bed-blocking’ effect if women in refuges are no longer regarded as homeless”. She referred to the fact that refuges do not simply provide “crisis intervention for a few nights”, operating instead as “safe haven[s] in which to find peace and support… to gather one’s strength and one’s thoughts and to decide what to do with one’s life”. She insisted, however, that a refuge was “not a place to live. There are rules which are necessary for the protection of residents but make it impossible to live a normal family life”. Baroness Hale did not approve the earlier (pre-Puhlhofer) decision in R v Ealing London Borough Council, ex p Sidhu (1982) 80 LGR 534in which (para 44) “Hodgson J instinctively felt, in our view rightly, that Parliament did not intend that a woman who left her violent partner and found temporary shelter in a women’s refuge should no longer be considered homeless”. The judge in that case, lacking the tool provided by section 175(3) of the 1996 Act, had decided that a refuge did not amount to “accommodation”. Baroness Hale was “inclined to accept” that the Sidhu approach could not survive Puhlhofer, but pointed out that “It does not need to do so … Although there may be circumstances in which it is reasonable to continue to occupy a place in a refuge indefinitely, there is nothing to suggest that it was so in this case … The important principle established here is that in most cases a woman who has left her home because of domestic (or other) violence within it remains homeless even if she has found a temporary haven in a women’s refuge” (para 65).
The decision in Moran is to be welcomed insofar as it establishes the “important principle” articulated by Baroness Hale in the immediately preceding paragraph. The decision of the Court of Appeal, from which the appeal was heard, had had the effect (according to Nicola Harwin CBE, Chief Executive of Women’s, that “the past year, in some parts of the country, the effects of the Court of Appeal ruling have already been felt in practice. Some women have been told that, as long as they remain in the refuge, they are not homeless, as they have accommodation and are no longer at risk of domestic violence [with the effect that r]efuges would no longer be able fulfil their main function of providing safe temporary accommodation and support for women and children escaping domestic violence, as the existing residents would find it difficult or impossible to move on”. Less welcome is the fact that her Ladyship left open the possibility that “there may be circumstances in which it is reasonable to continue to occupy a place in a refuge indefinitely”. It is difficult to imagine what these might be. Also potentially problematic is the recognition in Birminghamthat families might lawfully be left in unsuitable accommodation while efforts were made to re-house them, though the decision ought to improve the treatment of such families by virtue of the fact that things will not have to reach “breaking point” before the duty to re-house begins to bite. It remains to be seen whether judicial determinations, however progressive, can do anything to counter the effects on homelessness of the dramatic decline over the last few decades in the stock of public housing, or on women escaping domestic violence of the decline in refuge provision over recent years.