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03 JUL 2013

R (on the application of IA) v City of Westminster Council [2013] EWHC 1273 (Admin); (2013) PLLR 090

Local government - housing -homelessness - priority - sections 184 and 188 Housing Act 1996 - Homelessness Code of Guidance - vulnerability due to mental and physical health problems - inquiries to be undertaken to fulfil duties under Housing Act 1996

A vulnerable former asylum seeker who was unintentionally homeless person with both mental and physical health problems had a strong chance of successfully seeking judicial review where the local authority had, in deciding that his was not a priority case and refusing interim accommodation, failed to pursue proper inquiries, made procedural errors and acted unreasonably. The judge reviewed the inquiries which should have been made with particular emphasis on the situation of vulnerable former asylum seekers.

20 May 2013

Administrative Court

HHJ Anthony Thornton QC

(1)        The claimant (IA) was a former asylum seeker who had been detained as a political prisoner and tortured in Iran. He suffered from mental and physical health problems. He received housing benefit which was used to rent a private sector property. In anticipation of the benefits cap, the landlord retook possession of the property. IA applied to the defendant (W) for assistance. W decided that IA was unintentionally homeless but did not have priority need and therefore they were not under a duty to house him under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 (the 1996 Act). W declined to exercise its discretion to provide IA accommodation under section 192 of the 1996 Act. IA sought judicial review of W's decision and had obtained a without-notice injunction requiring W to house him until the judicial review was concluded.

(2)        IA sought permission for judicial review on the grounds that W's decision was unlawful, procedurally flawed and Wednesbury unreasonable.

(3)        HHJ Anthony Thornton QC held: That IA's claim had strong prospects of success. The Homelessness Code made it clear that where an applicant was vulnerable due to, inter alia, their mental health, a housing authority must, under section 184 of the 1996 Act immediately assess whether or not they are unintentionally homeless, eligible for assistance and of priority need. The onus was on W to make the relevant inquiries (in the plural), and they should make interim accommodation available to the applicant whilst these inquiries were ongoing. It is not for the applicant to prove their case and the authority should lead an inquisitorial process, taking into account multiple lines of inquiry. Where mental health issues are at play, the applicant's practitioners, past and present, should be consulted and a further assessment by a psychiatrist should be sought. In a case such as IA's, where the applicant is depressed, alone, unable to cope with day-to-day tasks, unemployed, with no links to England and minimal support network, detailed inquiries should be made into their situation prior to becoming homeless. The brief initial interview undertaken by W was clearly insufficient for the conduct of such inquiries. It seemed irrational and perverse to conclude that IA was not vulnerable, in priority need and entitled to the protection given by section 184 [24] - [27].

(4)        That it was unlikely that W had consulted its in-house medical adviser or that any such consultation had gone far enough. Unless the consultation was with a psychiatrist, any advice given should not have been relied upon without also contacting IA's GP. Fairness required any advice received by W to be passed to IA's medical practitioners for their views [28].

(5)        W's decision had failed to take into account the circumstances under which W had been granted asylum; there was no full report from either IA's GP or an independent psychiatrist and no assessment of IA's vulnerability and how that would be impacted by his homelessness. W had failed to properly consider these matters and IA had a good prospect of showing Wednesbury unreasonableness [29] - [30].

(6)        That W did not seem to have fulfilled its duty under section 184 of the 1996 Act suggested that they would also be in breach of section 188(1) in their decision not to provide IA with interim accommodation [31].

(7)        Further information provided to W in relation to the ability of W to provide interim accommodation whilst reviewing its initial decision had not been properly considered and dismissed in a cavalier and speculative fashion. The decision not to provide interim accommodation did not take into account IA's vulnerable mental health or the failure of the initial case worker to make proper inquiries, and it did not look at the new material provided [33].

(8)        The decision to grant an interim injunction requiring that IA be provided with accommodation was not open to challenge. The interim injunction was to be continued until the review decision had been made [35] - [36].

Permission granted; interim injunction continued

Key Paragraphs

[1] - [2] - Introduction

[3] - Anonymity order

[4] - [12] - Factual overview

[13] - Relevant legal framework

[14] - [21] - The defendant's decision

[22] - Permission application

[23] - [30] - The section 184 decision

[31] - Section 188(1) duty

[32] - [34] - Section 188(3) duty

[35] - [37] - Interim injunction and conclusion 

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