Effect of public sector equality duty on the duty to make inquiries in homelessness cases

Monday 28 November 2016

Birmingham City Council v Wilson [2016] EWCA Civ 1137, 17 November 2016

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Birmingham City Council v Wilson [2016] EWCA Civ 1137, 17 November 2016

Ms Wilson, the Respondent, was a single mother to two young boys aged (at the time of the appeal) 11 and 14 respectively. In March 2014 Ms Wilson applied to Birmingham, the Appellant, as homeless. Birmingham proceeded to make inquiries into her application and, while doing so, placed Ms Wilson and her sons in a Hotel in Edgbaston for two months, before moving them to the 11th floor of a high rise flat.

In June 2014 Birmingham found Ms Wilson to be owed the main housing duty under s193(2) Housing Act 1996. In August 2014 Birmingham made a final offer of accommodation to her, in performance of the duty, of a flat on the 8th floor of another high rise block known as Thornton House.

Ms Wilson refused the offer. Her reason for doing so, she told Birmingham, was that her sons had a fear of heights and that living in high rise accommodation was adversely affecting their mental health. Birmingham rejected these reasons and informed Ms Wilson that the duty owed to her had come to an end.

This decision was upheld on review. The reviewing officer expressed the view that he had considered the public sector equality duty under s149 Housing Act 1996 but that ‘there is no information available to the City Council to suggest that any member of your household suffers from a condition which could reasonably be termed a disability’.

This decision was quashed on appeal. The judge at first instance held that Birmingham had failed to make adequate inquiries into whether Ms Wilson’s elder son was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

The Court of Appeal allowed Birmingham’s appeal. The reviewing officer had considered the correct question, following the guidance in Pieretti v Enfield London Borough Council [2010] EWCA Civ 1104, [2011] 2 All ER 642, namely whether there was a ‘real possibility’ that a member of the Appellant’s household was disabled. His conclusion that there was not could not be characterised as irrational.

However in reaching its decision the Court indicated that it would be desirable for clearer guidance to be given by Birmingham in its standard forms explaining in simple terms, to homeless applicants such as Ms Wilson, the effect of refusing a final offer of accommodation.

Click here for the judgment.

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