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12/06/2022

Failure of section 189B duty

Our grateful thanks to Daniel Grütters of One Pump Court for this note of a recent section 204 appeal judgment on Westminster City Council’s performance (or lack thereof) of the s.189B Housing Act 1996 duty (the ‘help to secure’ or relief duty).

Mr Miro Maric v Westminster City Council (2022) H40CL232

Mr Maric approached Westminster City Council for help after his landlady gave him notice to quit. While Mr Maric was expected to leave within a month, he was only spoken to by a housing office after 25 days; a week before he would be out on the streets. In the telephone call only basic information was taken, which was nevertheless used to complete an assessment and personalised housing plan (‘PHP’) pursuant to s.189A of the Housing Act 1996 (‘the Act’). However, neither the assessment nor the plan were developed with reference to medical information, because Mr Maric had asked if he could complete the relevant form himself. He returned the completed form to the Council, which listed various serious physical and mental health problems.

In the days leading up to his eviction, Mr Maric repeatedly called the Council for help, hoping to speak to the housing officer who had spoken to him previously. The Council referred him to Westlets – its private sector rental scheme – but neither spoke to him nor did anything else to help him. Mr Maric ended up on the streets for 4 weeks in winter until a charity pressurised the Council into housing him under s.188(1) of the Act.

The charity had also requested on behalf of Mr Maric a review of the steps the Council was to take under s.189B(2) of the Act. The subsequent review was delayed by 6 months but when it was eventually completed it upheld the initial decision. Mr Maric appealed under s.204 of the Act. In a hearing before HHJ Lochrane, Mr Maric succeeded on all three grounds of appeal.

The first ground of appeal claimed that the Review Decision had failed to consider, and/or made perverse conclusions about, whether the Council’s assessment and PHP met the statutory requirements under s.189A of the Act. This appeal ground was premised on the submission that a local housing authority’s proper assessment of an applicant’s case and agreement of a PHP, pursuant to s.189A, are conditions precedent for the steps they are to take under s.189B to be reasonable. Simply put: unless the Council understand an applicant’s case, it cannot know what steps are reasonable in the circumstances.

HHJ Lochrane accepted Mr Maric’s criticisms of the assessment and PHP, in particular the failure by the Council to consider his medical problems and fraught history in the private housing sector. In turn, the Judge also accepted “the inevitable logical position advanced (…) (that) this inevitably means the reasonableness or otherwise of the steps which were subsequently proposed is fundamentally flawed.” The Review Decision had neither identified nor remedied this flaw.

The second ground of appeal challenged the failure of the Council to direct or assist Mr Maric with making an application for accommodation under Part VI of the Act. The Review Decision argued this was unnecessary because such an application would inevitably be unsuccessful. However, the relevant policy granted the Council a discretion – which meant an application could be successful – and there had been no consideration of that discretion nor the manner in which it would be exercised. In the circumstances, the Judge concluded that the failure to even mention the point was inherently unreasonable.

The third ground of appeal focussed on the public sector equality and followed primarily from the failure to properly consider Mr Maric’s medical problems.

Daniel Grütters appeared on behalf of Mr Maric (instructed by Shelter).
Ian Peacock appeared on behalf of the Council (instructed by Bi-Borough Legal Services).

 

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.

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