Homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability

Today is the third of three days at the Supreme Court that focus on homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability (or rather, priority).

courthouseThe three cases are:
– Hotak (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)
– Johnson (Appellant) v Solihull MBC (Respondent)
– Kanu (AP) (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)

(Interveners in all three cases:
Equality and Human Rights Commission, Shelter, Crisis and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.)

What is it all about? Predominantly 189(1)(c) in the Housing Act 1996:

189 Priority need for accommodation.

(1) The following have a priority need for accommodation—

(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(d )a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order—

(a) specify further descriptions of persons as having a priority need for accommodation, and

(b) amend or repeal any part of subsection (1).

(3) Before making such an order the Secretary of State shall consult such associations representing relevant authorities, and such other persons, as he considers appropriate.

(4) No such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

Hotak is a pretty straightforward case, at first sight; the two other cases are less clear. Hotak concerns two brothers, one of which (Sifatullah) would certainly be considered vulnerable if the other one (Ezatullah) had not said that he would look after his brother. The brothers were living in a friend’s flat in Southwark, but told to leave because of overcrowding. Ezatullah’s immigration status at the time, however, made him ineligible for housing assistance.

Southwark did give the brothers temporary housing while it made its mind up. It decided that Sifatullah was unintentionally homeless, and eligible for assistance, yet did not consider him vulnerable in terms of in priority need of housing because his brother was looking after him. This is where the case went off the rails.

If Sifatullah were a pregnant woman, unintentionally homeless (as it is called), and eligible for assistance, whether the person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside supports her or not makes no difference, as one of the lawyers highlighted on Monday.

Another one pointed out that the law does not contain an element of comparison. A person’s own condition makes him or her relatively vulnerable when on the street, and the law had the intention of preventing and eliminating all homelessness. This would mean that a) there is no such thing as “an ordinary street-homeless person” (used by Southwark to compare Sifatullah against) and b) one could say that being homeless in itself already points toward a person being less able to fend for himself or herself, as homelessness is not the norm in this country.

It looks like the practice of the application of this legislation – carried out by the decision-making housing officer – has been moving toward comparing a blind applicant with street-homeless blind applicants, deaf applicants with street-homeless deaf applicants, mentally ill applicants with street-homeless mentally ill applicants, applicants with substance abuse with homeless people with substance abuse.

More specifically, practice seems to be more and more relying on the premise that all homeless persons are, almost by definition, street-homeless mentally ill and/or substance abusers and/or physically ill, deserving no special protection (in Johnson, for instance). The law was not intended that way. The law does not even say anything like this.

The pregnant woman, however, is never compared with other pregnant women to determine her vulnerability. The same applies to any persons who have lost their home in a flood.

“Ideas about vulnerability are perhaps most often applied by those in more powerful positions to define those in less powerful ones.” (Kate Brown)

Housing matters at the Supreme Court – 5

Today in Court 2:
Aster Communities Limited (formerly Flourish Homes Limited) (Respondent) v Akerman-Livingstone (AP) (Appellant)

courthouseNot broadcast live.

A clear case of a causal relationship between someone’s disability and the reason for issuing proceedings, in my view. Someone unable to comply with what is expected from him. (One could see it as maladministration, perhaps.)

Will the Supreme Court see a violation of the Equality Act and let this weigh heavier or will other interests overrule?

Not an easy case.

Update: still went live later.

PS
See also my earlier post about this case.

Equality: the Black Pete debate

Sinterklaas! Tomorrow! And today is pakjesavond, for those who don’t have the southeastern Dutch tradition that I grew up with. I never knew pakjesavond. As a child, I would come downstairs to breakfast on 6 December and find the table covered with gifts and goodies, and the chairs too.

flower bulb fieldsUnless you’ve been living on Mars, you likely are aware of the hot debate surrounding the Netherlands’ Black Petes.

(Thank you, Independent, for the quotation marks around ‘racist’ in that headline.)

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The other side of policing

Being a police officer can’t be easy these days. My previous post may have sounded pretty harsh to some, but I have had this present post in the works for some time too. Obviously, police officers get to see a lot of bad stuff that most humans could happily do without, but that’s only the beginning.

investigatedWhen I look at police, I always have in my mind the distant memory of when the hotshots of Dutch police got together during several weekends, taking a good look at what was going on in their forces. ( I seem to remember that they did that in their spare time, unpaid.) Then they started to do away with a lot of crazy stuff that was handed down to them by the Ministry without there being any basis in reality for it.

What follows is not an in-depth analysis of what is going on in England & Wales, but a low-resolution snapshot taken from some distance, a bird’s eye perspective. It reveals an interesting landscape. Continue reading

Policing matters at the Supreme Court

Today brings the start of three days of policing matters at the Supreme Court:
courthouse

  • R (on the application of Catt) (Respondent) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and another (Appellants)
  • R (on the application of T) (Respondent) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Appellant)

Both cases concern the right to the protection of citizens’ privacy, notably regarding the length of the time certain matters remain part of police records.

The first case looks at whether the retention by police of data relating to an individual’s involvement in one or more protests was lawful in terms of art.8 ECHR.

The second case is a judicial review on whether the retention by police of information relating to a letter issued to the respondent following an allegation of harassment was lawful in terms of art.8 ECHR.

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