Reading Borough Council v Holland (2023) EWHC 1902 (Ch)
An appeal of a possession order made at first instance for Ms Holland’s introductory tenancy of sheltered accommodation.
Ms H was found by an expert report in the original proceedings to have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), and this was a disability for Eqaulity Act 2010 purposes.
The Report is lengthy, and it is difficult to do justice to the Report by any form of summary. For present purposes I need only mention two of the conclusions in the Report. First, Dr Iles concluded that the Appellant should be considered to have a disability within the meaning of Section 6 of the Act, in the form of EUPD; see paragraphs 70-76 of the Report. Second, Dr Iles did consider that there was a connection between the Appellant’s conduct, as alleged by the Respondent in the Action and the Appellant’s EUPD, although not one which absolved the Appellant from responsibility for her actions; see paragraph 79 of the Report.
Reading were well aware of Ms H’s condition, having worked with her after her eviction from a private sector tenancy, and their engagement was set out in the first instance judgment as follows:
Before coming to Flat 24 she had support from Alana house, was known to CMHT, and Crisis, had input from psychiatry; afterwards the Claimant made multiple referrals to CMHT and Crisis, Talking Therapies and Reading Recovery College, tried to assist her to have medication reviews, access therapy, reduce or manage her alcohol intake, put in place identified support workers who rang and visited her regularly, reminded her about medication, etc. The documentation shows that all of this was with a sharp focus on the Defendant’s diagnoses including EUPD and that they did so to try and improve the Defendant’s ability to manage her relationships with neighbours, support staff and others; to improve her confidence and mood, settle her emotionally, etc.
The issues of behaviour that had led to the possession claim were set out in the first instance judgment as follows:
I have set out the history of allegations of antisocial behaviour and other complaints and behaviours very extensively – perhaps too extensively – for fear of not painting a fair picture of what the Claimant’s staff and contractors, neighbours and others such as Forest Care staff have had to deal with from the Defendant over the years. In fact it does not paint a full picture because the sheer volume of calls, voicemails, texts and their abusive content to staff and contractors cannot be understood from my history, and nor, no doubt, can the extent of difficulties, disruption and abuse that has been experienced by the neighbours. The Defendant has made those over-55 neighbours, some elderly and vulnerable themselves, who have been assessed as suitable for sheltered housing, feel unsafe and insecure in their homes such that some of them have asked to leave it. They and other users of the Tunstall system have been put in danger by the Defendant’s excessive use of, and damage to the Tunstall system. When it is damaged it cannot be used by some residents to call if they fall or have another emergency, it puts the fire warning and monitoring system at risk: these are real dangers.
The key issues on the appeal were whether:
a) the Judge was right that Reading had complied with its public sector equality duty (PSED) in deciding to bring a claim for possession, given the acknowledged disability of Ms H and the effect of eviction and homelessness upon her; and
b) the Judge was right that eviction was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, without requiring that suitable alternative accommodation be available in Reading.
On a) the first instance Judge had correctly held that there were deficiencies in Reading’s formal Equality Act assessment, but also correctly found, following London & Quadrant Housing Trust v Patrick (2019) EWHC 1263 (QB) (our note) that the PSED did not have to be in the form of a single formal exercise.
The Judge had been entitled to find that Reading had had in mind, and the required ‘sharp foucs’ the effect of homelessness on Ms H, from multi agency meeting records and emails from medical practitioners.
On b) firstly, the Judge had been right to find that up until shortly before the possession hearing, Ms H had been requesting a move to North Devon, and Reading had tried to arrange one, which fell through. Secondly:
As the Judge pointed out, the Appellant had been evicted from her previous accommodation, and was then housed in temporary accommodation, prior to being moved to the Flat. As the Judge noted, at Paragraph 98, that previous accommodation had not gone well. The history of this previous accommodation, as found by the Judge, can be read in Paragraphs 29-33. As the Judge found, the Appellant had previously been in a private rented flat, from which the Appellant was evicted against a background of complaints about the Appellant’s behaviour. The Appellant was then housed in temporary accommodation where, by the Appellant’s own admission (see Paragraph 33) the same problems with the Appellant’s behaviour occurred as were subsequently to occur in relation to the Flat. It seems to me that the Judge was quite entitled to take all this into account, in her consideration of what was required of the Respondent in this context, in order to demonstrate compliance with its PSED. As the Judge pointed out, the same problems of behaviour carried over from the Appellant’s previous accommodation “despite the many hours of effort from the Claimant and the many services they sought for the Defendant to engage with”. Given the Respondent’s extensive experience of trying to provide the Appellant with suitable accommodation, I take the Judge’s essential point, in Paragraph 100, to have been that the Respondent was entitled, on the basis of this experience, to conclude that eviction was indeed the only option; all other options having effectively been exhausted.
In any event, there was also evidence given by Reading that it could not think of other accommodation it had in Reading that would mitigate or remove the problems for and with Ms H.
On the proportionality of the eviction, these same points applied.
The second limb of the second ground of appeal is based upon the argument that there was insufficient evidence of consideration by the Respondent of the possibility of finding suitable alternative accommodation for the Appellant within Reading. As a result, so it is contended, the Judge was not equipped with the evidence which she required, in this context, properly to consider the Proportionality Issue, and thereby wrong in her consideration of the Proportionality Issue. In my judgment the argument in support of the second limb of the second ground of appeal has not been made good. For the reasons which I have set out, it seems to me that there was sufficient evidence in this context for the Judge properly to consider the Proportionality Issue. I cannot see that the Judge went wrong in her treatment of this evidence, which was of course pre-eminently a matter for the Judge.
Further, proportionality was a balancing exercise for the Judge. The findings on Ms H’s impact on staff and other residents were serious, as were the potential ongoing risks and dangers.
These very serious findings were an integral part of the balancing exercise which the Judge was required to carry out. I do not think that they can be separated out from the specific issue of whether the Judge adequately considered the questions of whether suitable alternative accommodation could be provided within Reading and whether there was a less drastic option than eviction. The risks and dangers of allowing the Appellant to remain in the Flat, which the Judge saw as very serious, seem to me to have been part and parcel of what fell to be taken into account in considering whether it was actually feasible to find some other suitable alternative accommodation for the Appellant. The Respondent clearly did not consider this to be a feasible course of action, either before or after the Offer was made. The Judge clearly took the same view. I cannot see that the Judge was wrong to take this view. To the contrary, it seems to me that the Judge was more or less compelled to this view, given her findings on the evidence, as those findings are set out in the Judgment.
Appeal dismissed. The Court then noted that, although no-one would wish to make a possession order that would put a 62 year old woman, with a disability, in a state of homelessness if it could be avoided, there was an upcoming committal hearing for breaches of the injunction made in the possession proceedings, including admitted breaches.
Lloyd v North & Ors (2023) EWHC 1497 (KB)
A renewed application for permission to appeal a first instance refusal to set aside the strike out of Ms Lloyd’s claim for compensation for eviction, which claim was issued after the Court of Appeal had refused Ms L’s application for permission to appeal a county court appeal decision granting a possession order against her. (Yes, Ms L was acting in person).
The original possession claim was for an almshouse that that Ms L occupied as a licensee. The claim was apparently brought on the basis that Ms L had breached a term of licence that the licensee must not “disturb the quiet occupation of the alms houses or otherwise behave ‘vexatiously or offensively, in the opinion of the Trustees”.
The claim, which was brought against the Circuit Judge and the Rt Hon LJ Arnold, as well as the Trustees, had been struck out as disclosing no reasonable grounds and a collateral attack on the previous possession judgments.
The substance of the application for permission to appeal was that the Circuit Judge and the Court of Appeal Judge in the possession proceedings had got it all wrong.
She said she had suffered extreme injustice. The CPR had been abused. She had not been allowed to state her case at the appeal, which should never have happened. His Honour Judge North had got his facts wrong. Arnold LJ had been negligent and he, too, had abused the CPR. He was just acting in favour of another judge. A remedy must be found for the injustice she has suffered. She said, the ‘Judges got everything wrong and ignored the law and did not get a single thing right.’
This went as well as you might expect. The claim was clearly a collateral attack on the possession judgments and an abuse of process. Moreover:
Further and in any event, the Grounds of Appeal are wrong in at least one obvious respect. For example, the sentence in (3), ‘HHJ North evicted me because I had brought a justified claim which is unlawful eviction’ is simply not correct. As I have set out, he upheld the Trustees decision on the basis there was a proper evidential basis – apart from the civil claim – for the conclusion that the Applicant had behaved in an offensive or vexatious manner. This basis included things the Applicant had written or said which the judge recited at length.