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Public law and Regulation

Case reports and guidance on public law and professional regulation issues

03 JUL 2013

SL v Westminster City Council [2013] UKSC 27; (2013) PLLR 070

Care - community care - local authority -accommodation - failed asylum seeker - destitution - mental health - section 21(1)(a) National Assistance Act 1948 - care and attention - link with provision of accommodation - ‘not otherwise available'

A failed asylum seeker was not ‘in need of care and attention' where such services as could be provided to him were in no way contingent on his having accommodation. Although it was going too far to say that section 21(1)(a) of the National Assistance Act 1948 would only require care and attention to be given where they could only be given alongside accommodation, the statute clearly envisaged more than just monitoring of an individual.

9 May 2013

Supreme Court

Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Carnwath

(1)        The respondent (SL) was, at the time at which the claim arose, a destitute failed asylum seeker who suffered from mental health problems. He was hospitalised for a period and, when detained, the defendant (W) provided him with some support by way of support groups and meetings with a social worker. However, it decided that SL was not in need of care attention to the extent that W would be required to provide him with accommodation, under section 21(1)(a) of the National Assistance Act 1948 (the 1948 Act). Although SL had since been granted indefinite leave to remain and thus was able to obtain housing by different means, the case continued as it raised questions of principle.

(2)        SL challenged the decision of W on the basis that he was in need of care and attention and that that care and attention could not be made available otherwise than by the provision of accommodation under section 21(1)(a) of the 1948 Act.

(3)        Lord Carnwath JSC (with whom Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr and Lord Carnwath agreed) held: That, although the significance of SL's mental health issues was not to be underestimated, ‘care and attention' should not be read so widely as to divorce it from its legislative context, which required something more than monitoring. The words of Lady Hale in R (M) v Slough Borough Council [2008] UKHL 52, that care and attention meant ‘doing something... which he cannot or should not be expected to do for himself' should not be taken to be a compendious statement of all the elements of the concept. The words were intended to be illustrative. It was relevant that the authority had decided that SL did not need to be looked after and that to do so would be counter-productive. ‘Care and attention' must relate to the duty to provide residential accommodation; however, it should not be confined to services which can only be provided in accommodation of a specialised kind. The fact that accommodation must be provided for those in need of care and attention indicates that something beyond monitoring is required [39] - [44].

(4)        That the care and attention provided to SL was clearly available other than through the provision of accommodation. There was no requirement that the care and attention be ‘reasonably practicable and efficacious', as had been suggested by the Court of Appeal. It was clear from Slough that the need for accommodation did not, of itself, constitute a need for care and attention. The judgments in R (on the application of Mani) v Lambeth LBC [2003] EWCA Civ 836 and R v Wandsworth LBC ex p O [2000] 1 WLR 539 did not give proper weight to the words ‘otherwise available.' The analysis of whether an individual needed care and attention which was not otherwise available was a complex exercise dependent upon the facts, and best carried out by the local authority. It would not normally involve an issue of law [45] - [49].

Appeal allowed; order of High Court restored.

Key paragraphs

[1] - [4] - Introduction

[5] - [9] - Statutory provisions

[10] - [13] - The facts

[14] - [26] - The authorities

[27] - [33] - The courts below

[34] - [38] - The submissions

[39] - [49] - Discussion

[50] - Conclusion 

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