Edward Gratwick: Inner House decision revises homelessness duty on local authorities
The Inner House of the Court of Session has issued an important decision in the appeal of Glasgow City council v X. It relates to the duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for homeless persons – that the duty to provide temporary accommodation is less onerous than the duty to provide permanent accommodation. This reverses an earlier decision that the duty to provide temporary accommodation was absolute and might require a local authority to buy or build a suitable property, writes Edward Gratwick.
The decision also discusses the interaction of duties on local authorities under housing and equality legislation.
The pursuer lives with her husband, and four children, one of whom is autistic. The pursuer qualified for temporary accommodation as she was homeless. Glasgow City Council provided a three-bedroom house on a temporary basis. The council’s occupational therapist assessed the family and found the autistic son should have his own bedroom. This meant the family required a four-bedroomed house.
The council had no four-bedroom properties available and other families were higher on the waiting list for similar properties. The family remained in a three-bedroom property until suitable permanent accommodation became available and the pursuer challenged this decision.
The first hearing decided the council’s duty to provide suitable temporary accommodation under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 was absolute (regardless of whether they had a four-bedroom property available). The court also said if it had not found in favour of the pursuer under housing legislation, it would have found in her favour under equality legislation. The Equality Act 2010 imposed a duty on local authorities to make reasonable adjustments to their practice of obtaining housing stock.
This decision imposed a significant burden on local authorities. It meant the council was under a duty to buy or build a four-bedroom property for the pursuer’s family.
The council appealed that decision and the appeal court decided in its favour. There are key differences in duties of local authorities to provide temporary accommodation compared to permanent accommodation. A household’s requirements for permanent accommodation, including special needs considerations, does not determine whether a property is suitable for use as temporary accommodation.
The appeal court recognised the possibility of an emergency homelessness situation where a council did not immediately have accommodation available suitable for the specific permanent needs of a household.
The court also rejected the pursuer’s alternative case, based on alleged breaches of equality legislation. The pursuer argued the council had been under a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to its practice of sourcing homeless accommodation from Registered Social Landlords to avoid putting her disabled son at a substantial disadvantage compared to persons who aren’t disabled.
The court held that there is no reason why accommodation obtained from a registered social landlord, as opposed to another source, would be less suitable for disabled persons. The issue in this case was to be assessed in accordance with housing legislation, not equality legislation.
The decision provides important clarification for local authorities on the extent of their duties. There are significant pressures on both local authority and registered social landlord budgets which limit their ability to procure new accommodation. The decision recognises this hard reality.
The Equality Act is also increasingly relied upon by tenants in the context of repossession actions raised by councils and registered social landlords. Courts are asked to scrutinise the decision to evict in the difficult cases where the council or Registered Social Landlord feel there is no alternative to court action. This decision will be a reference point in those cases.
Edward Gratwick is a legal director at Addleshaw Goddard