Successful homeless appeal against local authority for failing to discharge public sector equality duty on grounds of gender

Thursday 8 September 2016

Tim Baldwin of Garden Court Chambers represented the Appellant in a section 204 Housing Act 1996 appeal of SS v London Borough of Waltham Forest where judgment by Recorder Genn was given on 5 September 2016 (the hearing of the appeal was expedited by HHJ Luba QC) quashing a decision that the Appellant was not in priority need as a result of not being deemed vulnerable under section 189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996.

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The appellant had fled her marital home due to severe domestic violence which had left her with chronic mental and physical health problems. She had been provided with supported accommodation in a specialist refuge which was coming to an end and she then applied as homeless to the respondent Local Authority.

The Local Authority had determined that the appellant was homeless but was not in priority need as compared to the ordinary homeless person, as per the test from the Supreme Court in the case of Hotak et al. The Local Authority agreed that the appellant was disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 where the disabilities arise out of domestic violence and thereby the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) was engaged.

The judge on allowing the appeal, on all grounds, held that the Local Authority had not lawfully applied the test of vulnerability from Hotak et al and had not completed a composite assessment, as it had not taken into account the risks of harm presented to the appellant arising out of the risk of loss of specialist support and accommodation, which rendered the appellant significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary homeless person of robust health.

The judge further ruled that the Local Authority had accepted the appellant’s disabilities had arisen out of domestic violence and had only considered the protected characteristic of disability in their PSED assessment but had failed to consider the issue of the protected characteristic of sex which was directly linked to domestic violence, given the judgment of Lady Hale and Lord Neuberger in Hotak et al, such that it could not be said the PSED had been lawfully discharged. On this basis the judge quashed the decision. A report of this judgment will appear in Legal Action Magazine in due course.

Tim Baldwin is a member of the Housing Team. Garden Court Chambers was instructed by Chris Callendar of Steel & Shamash solicitors.

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