Social justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen has successfully represented a claim for judicial review against a local housing authority on behalf of a domestic abuse victim, using an under-deployed legal argument that the authority was in breach of legitimate expectation.
The case, The Queen (on the application of C) v London Borough of Waltham Forest, was brought forward by Solicitor Sioned Wyn Roberts, alongside Toby Vanhegan of 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, claiming that, not only was the authority in breach of legitimate expectation, it also contravened its allocations policy and section 11 of the Children Act 2004.
The claimant, known only as C, is a lone parent, who was fleeing severe domestic violence from a one-bedroom property secure tenancy that had been granted to her when she was pregnant. She sought an emergency transfer to a safe home and the housing authority referred her case to their Panel for a decision in accordance with their allocations and transfer policy. That policy also stipulated that C ought to be awarded a two bedroom property based on the current number of people in her household.
Evidence was put before the Panel from domestic violence advocates to support the emergency transfer and further evidence was provided by a child psychologist stipulate that C’s child required her own bedroom as the housing-related stress was causing her to self-harm.
The Panel, which included a social worker, made a decision and notified her in writing that she would receive an emergency management transfer to a “two bedroom like for like” property.
Waltham Forest later made C an offer of a one-bedroom property, stating that the inclusion of the wording “two bedroom” was a mistake and that the “like for like” referred to bedroom size and ought to have read “one bedroom”. They refused to withdraw that offer and instead offered C a late review of the Panel decision that awarded her a two bedroom property.
C maintained that the wording and inclusion of “two bedroom like for like” clearly meant a two bedroom property, and the claim was brought on the following grounds:
- That the offer was unlawful as it was in breach of her legitimate expectation that she would be offered a two-bedroom property in accordance with the Panel decision
- The offer was in breach of the authority’s own allocations policy which stipulated she ought to receive an offer of a two-bedroom property
- The offer was in breach of the child’s best interests – s.11 Children Act 2004
Following the issue of the claim, the local authority agreed to quash the offer of the one-bedroom property and offer a suitable two-bedroom home.
Sioned Wyn Roberts said: “In this case, the authority made a very clear offer to my client, based on the family’s specific needs that were informed by a team of professionals in the areas of domestic abuse and psychology. For them to then renegade on this was extremely unfair, particularly in light of the particularly horrific trauma that this family had suffered.
“When utilising the breach of legitimate expectation as a ground for judicial review, many housing lawyers often overlook this in favour of the traditional Wednesbury grounds. However, this case highlights that where a local housing authority make a promise of a benefit, then takes the benefit away, this is an abuse of power. We have shown that it can and should be used in instances within our community, such as this one, which would have had a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of the family and their quality of life.”
The doctrine of legitimate expectation was first developed in English law as a ground of judicial review in administrative law to protect a procedural or substantive interest when a public authority rescinds from a representation made to a person. It is based on the principles of natural justice and fairness, and seeks to prevent authorities from abusing power.
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