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Lost by translation


Ali v Birmingham City Council [2009] EWCA Civ 1279 (Original note from an Arden Chambers eflash pdf).

Mr Ali, who is Somalian, applied as homeless to Birmingham. At interview he was noted as speaking and understanding English. he was given a leaflet in a number of languages, including Somalian, with details of translation services.

Birmingham accepted a duty and their letter to Mr Ali informed him that he would receive only one offer of suitable accommodation. Further telephone conversations were carried out through an interpreter.

Birmingham then offered a property by letter, stating that this would be the sole offer and setting out review rights. On viewing the property, Mr Ali refused it and, via a Somali community centre, submitted a review request in grounds of suitability. The review held the property was suitable.

Mr Ali appealed to the County Court on grounds that he had not been properly informed of his right to accept an offer of accommodation while seeking a review of its suitability, as required by s.193(7), because the letter was in English, which he could not read, and no translation to Somalian had been provided. The requirement under s.193(7) was to inform the applicant, not merely to notify them, which meant an obligation on the Authority to ensure its communication was in a form the applicant could understand.

The County Court appeal was dismissed. The Court held that ‘inform’ and ‘notify’ were used interchangeably in Part VII Housing Act 1996. As long as reasonable facilities for translation were provided and available from the Local Authority, there was no greater requirement to translate the notification letter.

The Court of Appeal held:
‘Notify’ and ‘inform’ are used somewhat synonymously, with the distinction that ‘notify’ refers to the giving of notice in a document and ‘inform’ relates to the contents of that document. As the County Court had found, as long as reasonable facilities for translation were provided, there was no further routine requirement to translate letters for applicants who did not have english as a first language. Mr Ali had been notified of the available facilities and had not requested a translation of the letter.

Appeal dismissed.

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.


    • NL

      Thanks, M.

      Post updated.

  1. thetranslationpeople

    That is really quite disappointing to read how Mr. Ali was discriminated against by Birmingham and the various courts around the area. It does not matter what situation you are in there needs to be adequate services to allow for a proper translation.

    • NL

      Actually, there were translation services, which was why the courts found against Mr Ali. And don’t try to use the blog to advertise. I’ve removed the link.


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