Excluding people with behavioural disabilities from social housing: new High Court decision

Friday 26 January 2024

Nick Bano of the Garden Court Housing Law Team represented the Claimant, instructed by Tracy Ball of BHT Sussex.

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On 25 January 2024, the High Court handed down judgment in a judicial review challenge concerning Eastbourne Council’s social housing allocations scheme, and its impact on people with neuropsychiatric disabilities.

In R (Willott) v Eastbourne [2024] EWHC 113 (Admin), the Claimant suffered from autism and ADHD. She had also struggled with alcohol dependency, and had a history of experiencing domestic abuse. She was evicted from her socially rented home due to complaints from her neighbours about incidents at the address. She then applied to re-join the council’s social housing allocation scheme after her eviction, but this was refused on the basis of her past conduct.

The council’s rules entitled them to refuse social housing applicants whose “anti-social behaviour is serious enough to make them unsuitable to be a tenant”. This included any behaviour that would have “entitled the Council to a possession order under certain grounds contained in the Housing Act 1985”. In this case, the council had in fact obtained a possession order, so the rule was applied to the Claimant and she was disqualified.

The claimant brought a judicial review claim, challenging both the exclusionary nature of the council’s rules and its application in her particular case. Three of her grounds alleged different forms of disability-related discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Another three challenged the clarity and flexibility of the disqualifying rule on public law grounds.

The High Court acknowledged that there is very little publicly available evidence - and that there is no data collection by central government - about the link between neuropsychiatric disabilities (such as autism and ADHD) and housing-related anti-social behaviour. The Claimant relied on research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Disability Rights Commission, which showed a strong correlation between autism, ADHD and aberrant behaviour in the housing context. The Claimant also provided medical and professional evidence about her own particular disabilities, and their apparent effects on her behaviour.

The court held that the Claimant had not proved the necessary connection between behavioural disabilities and anti-social behaviour.  Therefore, neither the ASB rules in Eastbourne’s scheme, nor their application in the Claimant’s case, had contravened the Equality Act 2010.

The challenge also raised an interesting point of social housing law: whether there is a need for a ‘residual discretion’ to allow decision-makers to dis-apply firm rules in appropriate cases. The Claimant invited the court not to follow an earlier allocations case, Hillsden v Epping Forest, in light of more recent authorities concerning the need for flexibility in public law decision making. But High Court followed Hillsden, and held that there was no such requirement in the specific context of social housing allocations.

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