Successful policy challenge: homeless women fleeing domestic violence

Thursday 4 March 2021

In R (FB) v Camden LBC (Women’s Aid intervening) CO/3148/2019 Stephanie Harrison QC and Nick Bano of Garden Court were instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) for the Claimant.

Sophie Caseley of Garden Court Chambers, led by Shu Shin Luh of Doughty Street, was instructed by Bhatt Murphy for Women’s Aid, who intervened in the case.

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Members of Garden Court Chambers’ housing and public law teams have secured a significant victory in a settled judicial review claim, which challenged the way in which a local authority provides emergency housing to survivors of domestic violence.

In February 2021 the High Court approved a settlement order.

The Case

The Claimant was a particularly vulnerable survivor of domestic violence.  She became homeless, and approached Camden Council for accommodation.  Camden placed her in highly unsuitable temporary accommodation: a mixed-gender hostel, where she was required to share essential facilities with unfamiliar men.

Even after the council accepted that the Claimant needed self-contained accommodation, none was provided.  She brought emergency judicial review proceedings and the High Court made an order for interim relief.

Permission was then granted to continue the claim as a policy challenge.  The Claimant’s case was that the council’s inadequate arrangements for providing emergency single-sex accommodation to women who had experienced domestic abuse amounted to direct and indirect discrimination, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, and discrimination contrary to Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  A breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty was also alleged.

The Settlement

The parties arranged a round-table meeting between the council, lawyers from Garden Court Chambers, PILC, Bhatt Murphy and Women’s Aid, to discuss the council’s provision of emergency housing to survivors of domestic violence.  All parties indicated a willingness to seek a constructive dialogue.

Camden Council agreed to review its procedures, both in respect of its emergency homelessness provision and its ‘Adult Pathway’ programme.  The Claimant and the Intervenor agreed to provide representations and evidence about the particular needs of survivors of domestic violence.  The parties anticipated that the provisions of the new Domestic Abuse Bill, including upcoming changes to the statutory homelessness guidance, might assist Camden in reconsidering its approach. 

The Claimant and the Intervenor emphasised the need for a presumption that mixed-sex accommodation is generally inappropriate for women who have fled domestic violence.  They also raised concerns about the adequacy of ‘cluster’ accommodation, and the need to make advance provision rather than commissioning accommodation as and when the need arises.  Camden have indicated that they will consider those matters in their review.

On 24th February 2021 the High Court approved an agreed order, which provided for a significant award of damages to the Claimant and recorded the parties’ agreement in respect of the review of Camden’s procedures.

Garden Court Chambers wishes to commend the Claimant, who acted with particular bravery in bringing and pursuing this complex and long-running challenge.  Organisations including Solace Women’s Aid, the Wiser Project, the Centre for Gender and Violence Research (University of Bristol), Nia, Southall Black Sisters, Unite Housing Workers and the Claimant’s treating physicians also provided invaluable evidence and support.

PILC have issued a press release about the case, which is available here.

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