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The meaning of care and attention

By S

SL v Westminster [2013] UKSC 27 is a very important case concerning the meaning of “care and attention” in the context of s.21, National Assitance Act 1948.

We can only apologise for not writing it up sooner. All we can say is that the nearlylegal backlog of cases is threatening to rival the UK Border Agency’s backlog of immigration and asylum cases.


SL was a failed asylum seeker. He approached Westminster and asked that they provide him with accommodation under s.21, National Assistance Act 1948.

Section 21 provides that an authority is under a duty to provide persons with accommodation if:

1) by reason of age, disability, mental illness or any other circumstance,

2) they are in need of care and attention,

3) which is not otherwise available to them.

However, a failed asylum seeker – and anyone else here unlawfully – may not be provided with accommodation under s.21 if the need for care and attention has arisen because they are destitute. In R (M) v Slough BC [2008] UKHL 52 Baroness Hale held that “care and attention” meant “looking after” someone and “looking after” meant doing something for the person being cared for which he cannot or should not be expected to do for himself.

SL had attempted suicide in 2009 after he had become homeless. He was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It was not in dispute, however, that, at the date of his application, SL had no self-care needs, no cognitive or motor difficulties and was sociable and able to form relationships. Rather unhelpfully for SL, his care co-ordinator gave expert evidence that while he suffered from anxiety, depression and low self-confidence, he did not need looking after. Rather SL required advice, encouragement and for his condition to be monitored.

Westminster decided therefore that he was not in need of care and attention. This was upheld by the Administrative Court but overturned on appeal by the Court of Appeal. Laws LJ decided that SL’s care co-ordinator was “looking after” SL by “doing something for the claimant which he cannot do for himself: he is monitoring his mental state so as to avoid if possible a relapse or deterioration.”

The Supreme Court, unaminously, allowed the appeal. The provision of care and attention did not cover all forms of social care or practical assistance. The need has to be for care and attention which is not available otherwise than through the provision of residential accommodation. This means that it has to be normally provided in the home (whether ordinary or specialised) or will be effectively useless if the claimant has no home. It need not, however, be specialised care and attention that can only be provided in a residential setting. This therefore meant more than, as in this case, monitoring someone from afar through weekly or monthly meetings.


This is a very important decision. It had previously been thought that the need for care and attention and the need for a home were separate. If you needed “looking after” in some way then you got through the door (literally). SL changes that completely. Applicants are now going to need to demonstrate not only that they have a need for care and attention but that without a home they will be unable to receive it.

S is a barrister, based in London, who practices predominantly in housing and local government law.


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