13 May 2015
Link to judgment
Summary of case
Under s. 188 of the Housing Act 1996 (‘the 1996 Act’) local authorities have a duty to secure that accommodation is made available for applicants who are homeless and have priority need. Priority need is defined in section 189(1) of the 1996 Act and includes at paragraph (c) persons who are
vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside.
The Appellants applied for accommodation on the basis that they had priority need. The First Appellant has very significant learning difficulties and symptoms of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He is cared for by his brother. Southwark Borough Council refused his application on the grounds that, if homeless, he would be provided with the necessary support by his brother. The Second Appellant has multiple physical problems as well as psychotic symptoms and suicidal ideation. He was deemed by Southwark not to be in priority need because he would not be at a greater risk of injury or detriment than an ordinary street homeless person due to the ability of his wife and son to fend for the whole household. The Third Appellant claimed to be vulnerable because he had become addicted to heroin while in prison and was in poor physical and mental health. Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council found that he was not in priority need on the basis that he would not be less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person.
Three issues arose in this case:
- Does the assessment of whether an applicant is vulnerable for the purposes of s. 189(1)(c) of the 1996 Act involve an exercise in comparability, and, if so, by reference to which group of people is vulnerability to be determined?
- When assessing vulnerability, is it permissible to take into account the support which would be provided by a family member to an applicant if he were homeless?
- What effect, if any, does the public sector equality duty under s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010 have on the determination of priority need under the 1996 Act in the case of an applicant with a disability or any other protected characteristic?
None of the Lords concluded that the public sector equality duty had been breached in any of these cases. Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson and Lord Hughes agree) dismisses the First Appellant’s appeal, but Lady Hale would have allowed his appeal. All five Justices allow the Second Appellant’s appeal and dismiss the Third Appellant’s appeal.