• In the case of R v Hillingdon LBC ex parte Puhlhofer [1986] ac 484, if a public body is authorised by Parliament to handle a question of fact, the court should refrain from interference with the exception of where the public authority is acting unreasonably.

Facts of the Case

  • The local council rejected an application for accommodation under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and concluded that the family in question were not deemed homeless because they had available accommodation.   
  • Cs were the parents of a family staying in a single room who didn’t have access to any cooking or laundry facilities and applied for judicial review of the housing authority’s decision.


  • Who ought to have decided what the definition of ‘accommodation’ meant for the purposes of the statutory provision out of the Court and the local council?

Held by the House of Lords

  • The House of Lords held that it was up to the Court to decide what constituted ‘accommodation’ under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. The House of Lords also refused to grant relief.  

Lord Brightman

  • His Lordship found that if Parliament have granted a public body with determining a question of fact, the court should not intervene in the decision making of that public body except where the body is acting perversely. [518E]
  • “I do not, however, accept that overcrowding is a factor to be disregarded, as Glidewell L.J. (ante, p. 500C-D) apparently thought. I agree that the statutory definition of overcrowding has no relevance. But accommodation must, by definition, be capable of accommodating. If, therefore, a place is properly capable of being regarded as accommodation from an objective standpoint, but is so small a space that it is incapable of accommodating the applicant together with other persons who normally reside with him as members of his family, then on the facts of such a case the applicant would be homeless because he would have no accommodation in any relevant sense.” [518]

Editor’s Notes

  • This case highlights the discretion attributed to public bodies, and the hesitation of courts to intervene in their decision making. Such intervention will only be deemed appropriate where the public body acts unreasonably, and the courts believe it is in the best interests to step in to correct this behaviour.