The UK Supreme Court has handed down judgment in the latest in a long line of cases concerning the right of the homeless to suitable local authority accommodation. The Supreme Court refused to depart from its previous judgments and follow case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) - the latter has classified the right to suitable accommodation as a civil right.
Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 requires local authorities to provide ‘suitable accommodation’ for a person who is homeless and in priority need. Part VII also provides that this duty ceases when an applicant refuses a ‘final offer’ of accommodation, where the local authority is ‘satisfied the accommodation is suitable for the applicant and it is reasonable for him to accept the offer’. The appellant, Vida Poshteh, arrived in the UK as a refugee from Iran, where she was imprisoned and tortured. In 2009, she applied as a homeless person to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for accommodation. The Council made a final offer of accommodation to the appellant in 2012, but she expressed concerns that the physical features of the apartment in question reminded her of her prison cell in Iran and would exacerbate her PTSD and anxiety attacks. Part VII provides that an applicant can seek a review of the final offer - here, the reviewing officer held that the grounds in question were insufficient to justify the applicant refusing the final offer. Ms. Poshteh appealed to the County Court and ultimately the Court of Appeal on a point of law - these appeals were dismissed.
In considering the appeal, the Supreme Court first had to consider whether it was appropriate to depart from its earlier decision in Ali v Birmingham City Council, in which it held that the right to suitable accommodation was not a civil right, and so did not engage Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to a fair trial ‘in the determination of a person’s civil rights and obligations’. When that case came before the ECtHR, it was held that Article 6 did apply. In delivering the Court’s unanimous judgment, Lord Carnwath held that while the Supreme Court has a duty under the Human Rights Act to have regard to ECtHR decisions, the ECtHR in Ali had not addressed the Supreme Court’s reasoning and had gone beyond the scope of the line of decided ECthR cases. As such, the Court refused to depart from its position that Article 6 did not apply.
In considering the appeal before it, the Court had to consider whether the respondent’s reviewing officer applied the correct test in reviewing the final offer and the reasonableness of the applicant’s refusal, taking into account the applicant’s arguments that her mental health would be damaged by moving into the accommodation. The Court confirmed the review officer’s decision and dismissed the appeal. The appellant had sought to rely on medical evidence based on her assertions that the apartment was reminiscent of a cell - Lord Carnwath found that this was not a reasonable description of the property and did not give rise to a sufficient ground for refusal. The court found that the review officer had made no error of law in his decision that the respondent council’s obligations to the appellant had ceased following an unreasonable rejection of its final offer of accommodation.
Click here for analysis of the case.
Click here for the Supreme Court judgment.