Westminster Council’s policy on suspending homeless people from bidding for social housing ruled unlawful
In the High Court today, our client “Ms A” won her challenge against Westminster City Council (“Westminster Council”) on a decision which suspended her right to bid for Council accommodation for a period of twelve months.
Ms A was made homeless from private rented accommodation in Westminster following the impact of the Local Housing Allowance cap, and applied as a homeless person to Westminster Council on 18 March 2014. She had lived in the Westminster area for five years prior to the date of her homelessness application.
On 1 July 2014, Westminster Council accepted Ms A’s housing application and was therefore obliged to secure accommodation for her, her husband and their three children. Westminster Council offered Ms A temporary accommodation in Enfield which she accepted.
On 22 July 2014, Westminster Council wrote to Ms A to say she had been placed on its homeless persons’ priority housing list but would not be able to bid on the housing register for a period of one year, during which time the Council intended to make her an offer of private rented sector accommodation in final discharge of its housing duty.
Section 166A(3) of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended by the Localism Act 2011) gives certain groups of people a “reasonable preference” under any housing allocation scheme. Included within that group are people who are “homeless” and people who are owed a housing duty. It was argued Ms A fell into the category of people entitled to a reasonable preference by being owed a fully housing duty.
The Court determined the central issue of whether a local authority’s housing allocation scheme can be framed in such a way that those owed a housing duty are prevented from being able to bid to obtain social housing accommodation for a period of one year, given that those persons are entitled to a “reasonable preference” within that scheme.
Our client successfully argued that this was simply unlawful. The Court ruled that Westminster Council was in breach of its statutory duty in failing to allow Ms A to bid for social housing for twelve months.
HHJ Peter Blair QC said Westminster Council’s policy “carves out a whole sub-group which is altogether excluded from the potential of being allocated social housing for 12 months. They have no preference. Part VI of the Act does not permit the removal of a whole sub-group from a group which s.166A(3) requires be given reasonable preference in the allocation of social housing”.
The Court ruled that particular sections of Westminster Council’s Housing Allocation Scheme, which prevented Ms A from bidding for accommodation for a period of twelve months were unlawful. Ms A’s right to bid for social housing within Westminster’s Allocation Scheme has been reinstated with Westminster Council being ordered to allow Ms A and others like her to bid for accommodation.
Jan Luba QC of Garden Court Chambers said: “This case has nothing to do with queue jumping. Quite the reverse. It is all about being able to join the active queue of those in housing need, instead of being temporarily excluded from it. More importantly, it shows how valuable a tool judicial review can be in ensuring that the rule of law prevails and that the courts will expect public bodies to comply with legal requirements however pressing the demands on their limited resources”.
Jayesh Kunwardia, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors, said: “This landmark ruling makes it abundantly clear that homeless people have the right to bid for social housing from the time they secure a full housing duty from a local authority rather than being suspended for one year. Westminster’s subtle way of registering the homeless, saying they will have points but denying them the right to bid for 12 months is now deemed unlawful”.
The family were represented by Jan Luba QC and Tim Baldwin, barristers at Garden Court Chambers, instructed by Jayesh Kunwardia, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors.
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