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12/07/2008

Faarah Allocation Appeal

This was a judicial review against Southwark’s allocation policy, reported in this post, which Southwark, rather surprisingly, appealed.

Faarah, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Southwark [2008] EWCA Civ 807 was the result. The issue was the manner in which Southwark had translated medical priority points for transfer under the old allocation scheme into priority banding in the Choice Based Letting scheme that began in September 2005, and as a result priority dates.

Southwark appealed on three issues.

Firstly

that the judge was wrong to treat the criteria for 20 medical points under the old scheme and for inclusion in band 3 on medical grounds under the new scheme as indistinguishable in substance, and secondly, that in any event Southwark was entitled in the exercise of its discretion to adopt the administrative practice that it did as a transitional step in moving from the old scheme to the new scheme.

The Court of Appeal said that the Judge was right to treat the criterea as identical. Southwark had adopted an unpublished administrative scheme that did not accord with their published criterea. Southwark’s discretion did not extend to allocating housing other than by its published scheme.

Second, on the dating of priority, Southwark argued that there was no requirement for priority to pre-date the new scheme and in any case, the applicant only achieved band 2 priority through the multiple needs provision of the new scheme. The applicant pointed out that Southwark gave may people priority dates well before the introduction of the new scheme. Consistency in application should backdate the applicant’s priority to the date of her award of 20 points medical priority. The Order from the judicial review was unclear on this point, quashing the original priority date given to the applicant but not specifying a new one.

The Court of Appeal could not find a clear rationale for awarding priority dates, other than the obvious one of starting from Sept 2005 for everyone who predated the new scheme on the list. Southwark did not argue for this, as it does not accord with their actual practice. The Court said that any mechanism for awarding priority dates should be published and that Southwark could (impliedly should) regularise their position in that way for the future.

Thirdly, Southwark argued delay by the applicant from 2005 to 2007 in bringing the claim meant that she was not entitled to relief. The Court of Appeal found no reason to reverse the Judicial Review on this point. Southwark had been and continued to act unlawfully.

On relief granted, Southwark argued the delaration made was ‘not conducive to good administration’. The Court of Appeal was not impressed:

When pressed to explain his reasoning, he said that the making of a formal declaration would place a greater onus on the council to correct the practice than if the relief were limited to an order specifically relating to Ms Faarah. I found that a surprising and rather worrying submission. If it is true, it provides all the more reason why it is in the interests of good public administration that the judge’s declaration should stand.

An argument that Southwark should be allowed to continue an unlawful practice because changing it is inconvenient? Marvellous.

It appears that the Court of Appeal shared my surprise that Southwark had appealed this on all issues. Lord Justice Sedley agrees with the main judgment and adds at 53-54:

I share his concern at the sustained endeavour of the local authority, through Mr Broatch, to treat this appeal more as a damage limitation exercise than as an endeavour to get their policy and practice within the law. Both Southwark and other authorities with similar schemes have a duty to make sure that their schemes are compliant with their statutory obligations and are not subverted by inconsistent administrative practices.

The other rider is that all the members of this court would wish to express their appreciation of the skilful professional service which Ms Faarah has had from the Southwark Law Centre. As the history set out by Lord Justice Toulson shows, the law centre, by careful and well-informed correspondence, was able to locate and challenge the precise error of public administration which this appeal has confirmed. It is of importance to the administration of justice, as well as to many individuals, that there should continue to be law centres like Southwark’s which are able to offer professional help of high calibre to the neediest people.

Following the gloomy conclusions of my previous post, and the vulnerability of law centres at the moment, that gets a round of applause.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

2 Comments

  1. lawminx

    Hi Nl,
    This is totally off topic, I’m afraid, but I am having horrendous problems with my blog – its been hijacked by a guy called Paul Masterson, and for the moment I can do nothing about it; my url has therefore changed – it is no longer lawminx.blogspot.com but minx610.blogspot.com, so you’ll have to ammend your link to me, Im afraid!!
    (*rushes off, stressed, to tell everyone else of this catastrophe*!!!)

    Reply
  2. Nearly Legal

    @lawminx: Done. I saw the squatter had moved in – same charmer as took over lawyer-2-be, I think.

    Lovely to have you back.

    Reply

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