London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen has won an appeal against Westminster Council following its refusal to accommodate a vulnerable homeless man suffering from mental illness, following a two-year battle.
Highlighting compelling medical evidence, the firm challenged the council through two reviews and two appeals on behalf of its client whom the council deemed not to be in ‘priority need’, despite suffering from severe depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal ideation.
Local authorities have sought to narrow the definition of what constitutes ‘priority need’ in recent years, even more so since the decision of Hotak v Southwark in 2016. A successful challenge, particularly one forcing the council to immediately house the individual, is rare. In this case the Central London County Court judge ruled against the council on all counts, concluding that its decision was one that no reasonable local authority could have reached. He ordered that the review decision be varied to one that found the client was in priority need, requiring the council to accommodate him immediately.
The 37-year-old man from central London, had made a number of suicide attempts, the most recent of which took place when he received notification from Westminster that they were again minded to find him not in priority need. He had been in interim hostel accommodation since April 2015 and since October 2016, had been sleeping in his friend’s car as he had nowhere else to go.
The judge found that Westminster had acted unlawfully in failing to take into account the man’s suicide risk, in failing to consider an increase in his antidepressant medication prescription which demonstrated that his GP now considered him to be at increased risk of suicide, and in unreasonably preferring their own medical evidence over that of the treating physicians. The council failed to explain why, notwithstanding his mental health issues which would already deem him vulnerable, it had decided he was not “significantly” more vulnerable than an ordinary person and why compelling medical evidence had been rejected. Finally, it failed to consider its public sector equality duty towards those with disabilities.
Sophie Bell, housing partner at Hodge Jones & Allen acted in the case. She says: “With homelessness continuing to rise and local authorities under increasing financial pressures, we are seeing far more frequent attempts by local authorities to deny that applicants are vulnerable and therefore in priority need, despite clear and severe mental and physical health issues. Councils seem prepared to fight these decisions tooth and nail.
“This is an important case for those seeking to challenge decisions involving priority need. It demonstrates the importance of medical evidence from treating health professionals over a council’s own experts, of the need for councils to provide adequate explanations for their decision making and the fact that they must take into account their duties under the Equality Act.”
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen.
- For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016 the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.