Osbornes bring High Court challenge to secure suitable accommodation
News article published on: 13th August 2019
Edward Taylor has challenged Westminster City Council at the High Court after the local authority failed to meet its absolute duty to provide Ms X with suitable accommodation. As a consequence, Ms X has now been provided with suitable permanent accommodation, under a secure tenancy (one year introductory period), within the Westminster borough.
By way of background, Ms X sought assistance from Osbornes in September 2017 after Westminster reached a decision that Ms X was not “homeless” from her accommodation on the basis that it was reasonable for her to continue to occupy. Ms X suffers from considerable physical health issues and requires a walking aid. She also suffers from mental health issues. Her accommodation at the time was unsuitable for a number of reasons, but most principally as she could not fit through the door frames with her walking aid, and also because it was in Harrow where she was socially isolated.
Edward requested a review of the decision that Ms X was not “homeless”. Edward instructed an Occupational Therapist to attend Ms X’s home and prepare a report. Edward also instructed a Consultant Psychiatrist to meet with Ms X and prepare a report. Notwithstanding this compelling evidence, Westminster upheld their decision on review. Edward therefore issued a County Court appeal of their review decision. Westminster subsequently conceded the appeal and accepted that Ms X was “homeless” from her accommodation.
Westminster also accepted that Ms X was “eligible for assistance” and “vulnerable”, and therefore in “priority need” for accommodation. However, they still refused a duty to provide suitable accommodation on the basis that she was “intentionally homeless”. Westminster reached this conclusion as Ms X had social housing in Westminster several years ago, and they considered that she had deliberately “abandoned” this accommodation. Edward made detailed representations to demonstrate that the loss of this accommodation was in no way deliberate, and in any event it would not have been affordable for Ms X to continue to occupy.
Westminster however maintained their position that Ms X was “intentionally homeless”. Edward therefore issued a further County Court appeal, to challenge this review decision. On this occasion, Westminster fought the case right through to trial. However, Ms X was successful at trial with the Judge quashing the decision and requiring Westminster to reach a further decision. Edward made further representations before this decision, and ultimately Westminster concluded that Ms X was “unintentionally homeless”.
It followed that Westminster owed Ms X a main housing duty under s.193 Housing Act 1996. As Ms X had made her application before the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force, Westminster’s duty consisted of providing Ms X with suitable accommodation, whether that is privately rented, temporary or permanent.
Despite pre-action correspondence, Westminster failed to offer Ms X any accommodation pursuant to its s.193 duty. Edward therefore issued Judicial Review proceedings at the Administrative Court (Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court). Edward sought an order of interim relief on behalf of Ms X to require them to identify suitable accommodation within 14 days. A High Court Judge granted the order sought.
Westminster initially responded to the proceedings and interim relief order by offering Ms X hotel accommodation in the London Borough of Hillingdon. Edward contended that this did not comply with their allocations policy at Appendix 9. Westminster subsequently offered hotel accommodation in the London Borough of Wandsworth, pending an offer of permanent accommodation in the Westminster borough.
Ms X moved to the Wandsworth hotel accommodation, which was more suitable for her needs than the Harrow accommodation. A few weeks later she was offered suitable permanent accommodation under a secure tenancy within the Westminster borough. Ms X viewed the offer and accepted the property, with the Occupational Therapist assessing it as suitable for her needs.
Edward instructed Counsel, David Cowan, of Doughty Street Chambers.
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