Our grateful thanks to Eleri Griffiths and Martin Hodgson of One Pump Court for the following note of a judicial review of LB Harrow’s failure to provide suitable accommodation under section 193 Housing Act 1996, following on from Elkundi (our note) and while we await the Supreme Court decision in Imam v LB Croydon on mandatory orders in such cases.
Coleman v Harrow LBC, 4 May 2023, Administrative Court, London, David Pittaway KC (unreported)
This was a judicial review of Harrow’s failure to secure suitable accommodation under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996, another example of Elkundi in action.
Ms Coleman and her children lived in temporary accommodation provided by Harrow, who had accepted a full housing duty in June 2023. The family had fled serious violence and one of the children had significant wide-ranging and lifelong physical and developmental medical conditions. The child was severely disabled with very high care needs impacting on all aspects of her life.
After a short period in shared accommodation, the family were placed in a 2-bedroom flat which was not wheelchair accessible, in which the children had to share a room, and where the extensive adaptations and equipment needed by the disabled child, including ceiling tracking, hoists, a specialist hospital bed and wet room facilities, could not be put in place. By the substantive hearing, the family had lived in that flat for nearly a year and the child had been without important necessary adaptations for all of that time. As a result, Ms Coleman had to physically lift and transfer her disabled child herself and without equipment, which had caused bilateral hernias. She was unable to have requisite surgery whilst having to lift her child. Her mental health had also deteriorated.
Immediately after the family began occupying the flat, Ms Coleman and professionals raised concerns. Around 6 months later, Harrow accepted that the accommodation was not suitable, but argued that it was taking reasonable steps to secure suitable alternative accommodation. It increased Ms Coleman’s allocations banding and in the meantime offered what it said were reasonable temporary adaptations recommended by its occupational therapists. It said that the specific needs of the family made it difficult to source suitable accommodation.
Ms Coleman brought a claim for judicial review, arguing that Harrow was in breach of Section 193(2) (Ground 1), the PSED (Ground 2) and the Children Act 2004 (Ground 3). Interim relief was refused but the Court expedited proceedings. Shortly before the substantive hearing, Harrow found somewhere which it thought be suitable, but wasn’t in a position to offer it to Ms Coleman who had in any event not had chance to see it.
Following a contested hearing, David Pittaway KC made a mandatory order. He found that:
- To avoid a mandatory order the burden was on Harrow to show it was taking all reasonable steps to secure suitable accommodation: Elkundi.
- Ms Coleman was not seeking immediate social housing/Part VI accommodation (which is what Harrow had focused on) and could be provided with temporary suitable accommodation in the meantime.
- The delay, whether from when the full housing duty was accepted or when Harrow accepted the flat was unsuitable, was far too long when considering the complex disabilities.
- The accommodation was having a serious deleterious impact on both children.
- The unsuitability of the flat was not mitigated by the recommended temporary adaptations. Some were unrealistic (such as moving the non-disabled child into Ms Coleman’s bedroom to make room for a bed and hoist) and the occupational therapists had in any event accepted that the Claimant’s objections to their proposals were not manifestly unreasonable.
- The witness evidence from Harrow fell short of what was needed to defend an order. For example, it didn’t properly deal with what was available in the PRS and there was a discretionary powers (such as DHP or under section 17 of the Children Act 1989) which could be used.
- Ultimately, although the difficulties facing Harrow were genuine, the answer is that it must set its mind to thinking of other ways to meet the obligation Parliament set on it. This may involve having to buy somewhere.
Harrow asked for 6 months to find suitable accommodation which the Judge rejected. He ordered that suitable accommodation be found within 2 months (as in R (Khan) v London Borough of Newham (2001) EWHC Admin 589) and for Harrow to pay Ms Coleman’s costs.
The Court did not separately determine the challenges under the PSED and Children Act 2004 as it was not necessary to do so given the relief given in any event. In summary those related to the failure to give sharp focus to the consequences of the disabilities, as demonstrated by the limited but unrealistic adaptations, and the failure to consider the principal needs of both children. Ms Coleman also raised issues over the general shortage of wheelchair accessible properties and a lack of any evidence of planning or assessment of the need for such accommodation, which strongly suggested that those with the protected characteristic of disability are being discriminated against, however unintentionally. It’s likely that the last issue in particular will raise its head again if more focused attention is not given by local authorities to addressing the needs of disabled persons who are homeless.
The Claimant was represented by Eleri Griffiths and Martin Hodgson of One Pump Court Chambers, instructed by Radhika Shah, Solicitor, Harrow Law Centre.