High Court case examines adequacy of housing provision for disabled individuals and impact of discrimination policies on housing with animals

Citation: [2024] EWHC 266 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court case of AB & Anor, R (on the application of) v Westminster City Council [2024] EWHC 266 (Admin) revolves around the suitability of accommodation provided to the claimants under the Housing Act 1996 by Westminster City Council and whether the council’s policies indirectly discriminated against the disabled in relation to housing provisions that permit animals. Mr. Dan Squires KC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, thoroughly examines the complexities involved in the adjudication of adequacy of housing provision obligations, and the intersecting impact of indirect discrimination policies dictated by the Equality Act 2010.

Key Facts

The claimants, identified as AB and CD, are recognized by Westminster City Council as homeless and in priority need due to serious mental and physical disabilities, thus owed duties under the Housing Act 1996. Accommodation had been provided to them, but they contested its adequacy, including its failure to accommodate their support animal—a necessity stemming from their disabilities. On these grounds, they sought judicial review, also alleging that the council’s policy on housing with animals indirectly discriminated against disabled persons who require support animals.

The legal framework navigated in this case primarily derives from the Housing Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. When providing accommodation, the local authority has an immediate, non-deferrable, and unqualified duty under HA 1996 s 193(2) to secure housing that is “suitable.” This necessitates taking into account the individual needs and characteristics of the person being housed.

The case also concerns the EA 2010, specifically sections 19 and 29, which prohibits indirect discrimination—a condition where a seemingly neutral policy puts individuals with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage compared to those without that characteristic—unless it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Further, the council must adhere to the public sector equality duty (PSED) under EA 2010 s 149, ensuring conscious consideration of the need to eliminate discrimination and advance equality when exercising their functions.

Several established cases were referenced to guide legal principles, including:

  • R (Elkundi) v Birmingham City Council [2022] EWCA Civ 601 for defining the immediate and unqualified nature of the duty to secure suitable housing,
  • Birmingham City Council v Ali [2009] UKHL 36 for recognizing degrees of suitability over time,
  • R (Imam) v Croydon LBC [2023] UKSC 25 for principles on when mandatory orders are appropriate in duty breaches,
  • Hackney LBC v Haque [2017] EWCA Civ 4 for applying the PSED in housing decisions.

Outcomes

The Court’s key dispositions included:

  1. Acknowledging a breach of HA 1996 duty to provide suitable accommodation occurred up until 17 October 2023, as conceded by the Defendant.
  2. Rejecting the rationality of the argument that the council’s policy requiring medical proof for the need to house with an animal indirectly discriminated against the disabled, or that failure to maintain a housing stock allowing pets was discriminatory under EA 2010 s 19.
  3. Dismissing the claim that the Defendant breached the PSED under EA 2010 s 149 in the process engaged in assessing the suitability of the provided accommodation.

Conclusion

The High Court’s analysis in AB & Anor, R (on the application of) v Westminster City Council exemplifies a stringent adherence to legislative criteria when local authorities provide housing and the complexity of assessing indirect discrimination through policy frameworks. The judgment underscores the requisite local authority obligation to secure suitable accommodation that is immediate and unqualified. Conversely, the ruling also clarifies how policies regarding housing provision with pets, especially for individuals with disabilities, may not be intrinsically discriminatory provided they aim to prioritize those who are most in need of accommodation with animals, such as support dogs. The Court’s dismissal of PSED claims further highlights the practical aspect of housing duty compliance, emphasizing that decision-making processes incorporate equality objectives as mandatory considerations but defer to the authority on weighting these considerations against other factors.

Related Summaries