A team of highly paid lawyers representing cash-strapped Croydon Council returned to the Supreme Court this morning for an appeal hearing that the authority has brought against a disabled woman and her three children. Yes…
“Despite going bankrupt, Croydon Council are happy to use public money for a legal challenge to harm the most vulnerable in their borough and beyond,” said a member of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, an organisation which together with some pro bono legal firms has been providing support for Ruba Imam, the woman at the centre of the case.
The homelessness charity, Crisis, has acted as the intervener on behalf of Imam, a mother and wheelchair user, who won their appeal case against Croydon, as local housing authority, for keeping them in temporary and unsuitable accommodation for longer than the legal limits.
The council decided that Imam’s temporary accommodation was unsuitable as long ago as June 2015. She was still stuck in the same unsuitable accommodation 12 months ago, almost seven years later, when her case reached the Appeal Court.
As the Appeal Court found last year, “The sole issue… concerns the circumstances in which a court may in the exercise of its discretion properly refuse a mandatory order to enforce a duty owed under Section 193(2) [of the Housing Act 1996].
“The local housing authority, the London Borough of Croydon… accepted that it was in breach of its duty as it had failed to secure that suitable accommodation was available for occupation by the respondent, Mrs Imam.” Our italics, for emphasis.
Appearing at the Appeal Court last year were lawyers representing Birmingham City Council, fighting similar cases. Having lost then, Birmingham has not pursued their case any further.
Yet bungling, cash-strapped Croydon has now gone to considerable trouble, and huge expense – advised by expensive external solicitors Browne Jacobson – by taking the matter to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court case is being heard by Justices Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Sales, Lord Leggatt, Lord Richards and Lord Burnett, and is expected to conclude today, with the judgement unlikely to be handed down for some weeks yet.
As the Supreme Court website lays out the matter to be determined: “When should a court make a mandatory order against a local housing authority to enforce a duty owed to a homeless individual under S193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”)?
“In particular, should the court take account of either: (a) budgetary constraints imposed on the housing authority; or (b) the availability of housing under a non-secured tenancy under Part VII of the 1996 Act (as opposed to a secured tenancy under Part VI of the 1996 Act).”
The Supreme Court lays out the facts as:
“The respondent is disabled within the meaning of S6 of the Equality Act 2010. The appellant, a local housing authority, has provided the respondent housing since 2014. The appellant accepts that (a) the property provided is not suitable accommodation, within the meaning of the 1996 Act; and (b) it is in breach of S193(2) of the 1996 Act by not offering suitable alternative accommodation.” Again, our italics.
“The respondent judicially reviewed the appellant’s failure to provide suitable alternative accommodation. In the High Court, the Deputy Judge declined to exercise his discretion to award a mandatory injunction to require the appellant to provide suitable alternative accommodation.
“In the Court of Appeal, this decision was overturned on the basis that the Deputy Judge had wrongly taken into account budgetary constraints imposed on the local housing authority in the exercise of his discretion and in the analysis of the steps taken by the authority to fulfil its statutory duty.
“The appellant…”, that’ll be tax-funded Croydon Council, which has already admitted that it has failed to provide suitable accommodation and has acted in breach of the Housing Act, “…now appeals to the Supreme Court.”
It seems very likely that the decision to continue to pursue this case, when the council has already admitted that it is in the wrong, will have been sanctioned by Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, Croydon’s senior legal official, and backed up by Katherine Kerswell, the £192,474 per year chief executive, and signed off by the borough’s Tory Mayor, Jason “Mr 15per cent” Perry.
A volunteer with the Housing Action group told Inside Croydon, “The council seem to be trying to argue that if they can’t find anything due to lack of resources, or their terrible finances, then nothing can be done and they should be allowed to leave homeless families in accommodation they have found to unsuitable indefinitely.
“Croydon’s arguments could severely undermine homeless families’ rights. If Croydon win the case in the Supreme Court then they will have a licence to treat all homeless families like this.”
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Why doesn’t Croydon Council just move this woman into suitable accommodation?There’s hundreds of empty new flats and houses in the borough, a lot of which were put up by, er, Croydon Council’s Brick by Brick company.
It would be cheaper than the court costs.
But this is the same council that spent one-third of its entire SEND budget on tribunal challenges so that it would not have to provide its statutory services to kids with SEND.
Perverse doesn’t even begin to cover it.
This is terrible and why does COMMON SENSE not prevail with these Council officials. The are just penalising those in need and providing wealth for the solicitors. I think they should all be sacked and there must be a way of charging them with Corporate misuse of residents funds. SACK THEM ALL WITHOUT ANY PAYMENTS.
Why aren’t you giving the benefit of the doubt to Part-time Perry again?
He is now dynamically indolent, with Gove in effective control of council finances, and he must have sanctioned the approval to spend tens of thousands on legal fees to set a precedent which could save his Government tens of millions to avoid facing their statutory responsibilities under the rule of law.
Gove will mention the Council Tax payers of Croydon who funded this attempt to unlawfully undermine the Homeless Persons Act in dispatches and so provide a more generous settlement to support us afterwards after dealing with a disabled person in a inequitable manner.
Were Croydon to win, that might create a precedent that meant anyone/company could seek to avoid legal responsibilities on the basis that they had insufficient funds to comply with the law. The Courts might become very busy.
If the Council win this case on the grounds they are stating it would set a precedent at the Supreme Court and become in effect a method for all Councils to avoid statutory/mandatory duties if funds do not permit them as they have squandered said funds or had them curtailed by Government.
But what a despicable way of doing this. Imam is not alone in this situation. Croydon Council as I have said many times, has a long history of placing people in unsuitable accomodation and squalid hotels and endangers those in its charge by doing so. You cannot blame the Council housing officers as they have scant resource and we have had so many reports of the cultural environmnt they have to work under the HSE should be seriously investigating it.
I do hope that this action is dealt with by the Supreme Court by throwing it out and give some clear guidance to this Government in how it abrogates its responsibility.
Fundamentally we as a Nation have a duty to provide shelter suitable as a basic human right to life. This Government delegates that duty to Authorities with ring fenced funding to implement the policy, regulations and processes for doing so.
And their is the rub.
Those processes and regulations are ”managed” to enable supply to meet demand. This means those that need have to wait for the supply to catch up with that need and suffer or die in the meantime. And make no mistake, people are dying from the chronic lack of supply not just in housing but to Policing, the NHS, Care packages, Fire brigade and an abject failure of civil enforcement and prevention. Just look at those that have died preventable deaths in Croydon through those lack of resources.
Supply is a tap that Government regulates at whim (Policy) for political reasons. It could reduce funding elsewhere, raise taxes etc. In fact it has a multitude of options to increase supply but does not. The difficult part is any option can impact on revenue generation. Increased taxation can lower revenue as has been shown repeatedly. Other options like what Ms Truss did, seem theoretically feasible but any junior economist – (including the Bank of England) can tell you how that will go down in the markets and they did and it did.
Yes the Government has a difficult time at present as does the Country and it’s residents(all of this Governments making one would argue) but that is the role Politicians stood for at election. To try to gain legal loopholes and set a judicial precent to escape responsibility will undermine trust and faith in anything a Governmetn says.
But to use a disabled person who you know you are disadvantaging and causing distress to and at this stage doing so intentionally is very wrong, immoral and frankly despicable behaviour for any human being to contenance. To do this in Court to meet a perceived business/political target or momentary need is even worse.
I would strongly suggest to the Supreme Court to consider how this act will impact on the Pillars of Law that society is built on and they are in place to uphold. Consider too how the Public interest will be served in the longer term when ALL residents have little to no belief in a fair and just society as espoused by this act by Croydon Council.
To take this clearly vulnerable person to Court is bullying, and against all natural justice. One hopes that the Court will apply its principles.