Is a mere roof enough?

Niema Abdusemed v Lambeth LBC (2016) QBD (Admin) (Ouseley J) 19/02/2016 (Not on Bailli yet. On lawtel as note of extempore judgment).

An application for interim relief in a judicial review of Lambeth’s refusal to provide interim accommodation pending review of the claimant’s homeless application, but one that leaves me thinking (or perhaps hoping) that there must have been more to this than appears in the Lawtel note.

Ms A, a refugee for Eritrea, had applied to Lambeth as homeless. A negative decision led to a s.202 review request in November 2015. The review was due by 25 January 2016, but Lambeth did not meet that date, saying a decision was ‘imminent’, it would be made at the beginning of March, and had been delayed because the decision had to be made by an outside body. (To interject, a contracted out review? But still has to be Lambeth’s decision, and there could be no ‘had to be made’ by an outside body about it.).

In the meantime, Ms A had been sleeping at nights on the floor of a hairdresser’s salon and on the streets through the day. Her solicitors sought a psychiatric report.

The report set out the sexual violence Ms A had suffered in Eritrea, the consequent post traumatic stress disorder and depressive syndromes. Homelessness would mean a deterioration in Ms A’s condition, but no treatment would be effective without adequate accommodation. Ms A had moved from sleeping on the salon floor to spending nights sleeping at a mosque, temporarily, and was again on the streets during the day.

The report was submitted to the s.202 review and a further request for interim accommodation pending review made. Lambeth refused to exercise their discretion to accommodate pending review. Ms A brought this judicial review claim and sought interim relief by way of an order that Lambeth accommodate her, arguing irrationality on the basis that Lambeth had not considered Ms A’s street homelessness.

The Admin Court held:

Via R. v Camden LBC Ex p. Mohammed (1998) 30 H.L.R. 315, the test for the local authority’s decision was (a) the merits of the case; (b) the applicant’s personal circumstances and the consequences of an adverse decision on the exercise of the discretion (c) whether new material had come to light that would have an effect on the decision.

The psychiatric evidence was new material, but the question to be asked of the most recent decision on interim accommodation was whether it was lawful in the light of that new material.

The local authority’s refusal of interim accommodation acknowledged the psychiatric report, but pointed out that the report did not say that Ms A was street homeless, but spending nights in a place where there was a roof over her head and basic facilities. This was far from ideal but was not street homelessness. There was no error of law in Lambeth’s decision letter.

Application refused.

Comment

This, at least as set out in the lawtel note, strikes me as a mess. I would be very keen to hear from anyone involved, because there simply has to have been more going on than this.

There is no legal definition of street homelessness – something much discussed by the Judges and parties in Hotak/Johnson/Kanu. Any decision that turns on a distinction between ‘street homelessness’ and ‘not ideal but not exactly street homelessness’ is setting out on a path that the Supreme Court effectively decided did not (and arguably should not) exist.

In addition, at least in this lawtel note, the approach taken to R v Camden ex P Mohammed seems, well, cursory at best.

At least, as an application for interim relief, this is not a decision that can be relied upon in other matters.

About Giles Peaker

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, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Homeless, Housing law - All and tagged .

3 Comments

  1. One would hope that the reason the decision went against the applicant was on the merits of the case and not on whether she was sufficiently vulnerable…

  2. Pingback: Is a mere roof enough? – Nearly Legal | Current Awareness

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