Facing the Facts

R (on the application of Hoyte) v London Borough of Southwark [2016] EWHC 1665 Admin is a useful decision of the High Court on the subject of repeat homelessness applications.

Ms Hoyte is a 58 year old woman with a history of mental health problems and a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, who had been assessed as being at “quite a high” risk of suicide. Following her application to Southwark as homeless, she was found not to be in priority need and the reviewing officer concluded from an examination of Ms H’s medical records and their own medical adviser’s opinion that there was no active suicidal ideation or planning.

Ms H was advised not to appeal the decision and in February 2016, she made plans to take her own life. Ms H’s GP intervened by speaking to her on the phone and she was persuaded to attend her local surgery. The GP now reported that there was clear suicidal ideation with plausible evidence of planning and intent.

Ms H’s solicitors took this evidence back to the council, who declined to accept a further homelessness application on the grounds that Ms H’s suicidal ideation was already known to them and there had been no material change in circumstances.

Ms H’s contention before the Administrative Court was that her suicidality had moved on since her earlier homelessness application and that her new application could not be described as being factually identical to the previous one (R v Harrow LBC ex p Fahia). The point about the previous application was that the council had rejected Ms H’s argument that she was an active suicide risk. The council’s response was that this new evidence was merely “more of the same” and they highlighted the reference to a “death pack” of medication within the earlier application.

In finding the council’s approach to be irrational and in allowing the claim, the Judge held that it was not open for the council to compare facts within a new application to facts that were rejected on an earlier application, particularly when the GP had reassessed his view about the suicide risk.

Comment

This is a judgement which provides some useful clarity. While a claimant’s profile on a repeat homelessness application may be very similar to their profile on an earlier application, this does not mean that the new application should be rejected as factually identical. It is the authority’s treatment of those facts that is critical when the new application is considered.

 

About SJM

SJM is partner and head of the housing and public law department at Miles and Partners LLP, based in London E1.
Posted in Homeless, Housing law - All.

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