Landmark Supreme Court ruling on Southwark homeless case

Admin (21 May, 2015) Housing

Decision will change the way local authorities assess priority on housing list

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A landmark Supreme Court ruling will force councils to do more to help vulnerable people facing homelessness after a Southwark Council decision was appealed.

Ruling on the cases of three homeless men last week, the court found that one, Patrick Kanu, was wrongfully denied care by Southwark.

Mr Kanu was refused housing in 2012 despite having hepatitis B and hypertension as well as psychotic symptoms and a preoccupation with suicide. The council argued then that his conditions could be controlled by medication and his wife and grown-up son could look after him, meaning he was not a ‘priority’.

Before the ruling last week, councils assessed potentially vulnerable housing applicants by comparing them with a so-called “ordinary homeless person”.

This meant single homeless people suffering from mental and physical health problems were not deemed especially vulnerable because an “ordinary homeless person” might be expected to suffer from those problems.

The Supreme Court ruling has lowered the bar for vulnerable people to be given priority status on the council’s housing waiting list as their needs will now be assessed against those of an “ordinary person” with a roof over their heads.

Mr Kanu’s lawyer, Mr Stuart Hearne of Cambridge House Law Centre, said of the ruling:

“This is a very welcome judgement. I would hope that it will also be welcomed by Local Authorities. It will make it much clearer who should be assisted.

“It is not in anyone’s interest, including that of Local Authorities, that people who have disabilities or mental health issues should not be housed or left street homeless,” he added.

Councillor Richard Livingstone, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The Supreme Court hearing is an important test case that will have an impact on how councils across the country approach homelessness.

“Without clear guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government, it is difficult to know how this will affect our waiting lists or temporary accommodation shortage.”

Cllr Livingstone added that the council will assess each new housing applicant’s needs in light of the new case law and will continue to build new homes and temporary accommodation units in the borough.

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