Landmark homelessness case offers new guidance on ‘vulnerability’

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Homeless people who are ‘vulnerable’ qualify as having a priority need for help with housing. But what does ‘vulnerable’ mean?

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As a result of earlier court cases, councils were treating as vulnerable only those people who were in a worse situation than others already living on the streets. They used statistics about the characteristics of the street homeless (relating to depression, drug abuse, etc) to see whether applicants were even more vulnerable than those already sleeping rough

In today’s judgment - in the case Johnson v Solihull Council - the Supreme Court has decided that such an approach is wrong.

A person is ‘vulnerable’ if they are simply more likely to be harmed by the experience of being homeless than any ordinary person would be if they faced the spectre of such homelessness. No statistical comparison is necessary or relevant.

The result is that many more homeless people are likely to be treated as being in priority need and as having a right to some accommodation.

Mr Johnson was represented by Jan Luba QC of Garden Court Chambers who appeared with Lindsay Johnson. They were instructed by solicitor Sean Gilmore of Evans Derry.

The charities Shelter and Crisis intervened in the case to help secure this change in the law.

The full judgment is available here

The official summary is available here

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