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Masthead Local Govt - Housing

Delays in the provision of housing

House key iStock 000004543619XSmall 146x219A High Court judge has refused permission for a sex offender’s challenge to councils over delays in the provision of housing. Matt Hutchings QC explains why.

At a hearing on Friday 22 September 2017, Gilbart J refused permission for Michael Goldsworthy, a convicted sex offender, to sue the London Borough of Richmond on Thames for damages in respect of their delay in providing him housing, which delayed his release from prison.

Mr Goldsworthy was convicted of serious sex offences and sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2006, with a minimum term of four years. He is also seriously disabled and a wheelchair user.

In October 2009 Mr Goldsworthy became eligible for early release (parole). However, he was not released from prison until May 2017.

In April 2017, he brought judicial review proceedings against the Parole Board of England and Wales, the Secretary of State for Justice, the London Borough of Wandsworth and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. His central complaint was that the delay in identifying suitable accommodation for him had caused the delay in his release from prison. Shortly after the claim was brought, Richmond secured suitable accommodation, enabling Mr Goldsworthy to be released.

Mr Goldsworthy's case against the London boroughs was that they had failed properly to discharge their duties towards him under the Care Act 2014 and the Housing Act 1996, and that this had contributed to the delay in his release.

In November 2016. Richmond accepted that they owed Mr Goldsworthy the main housing duty. However, suitable accommodation was not found for him until May 2017.

Richmond argued that the combination of Mr Goldsworthy's risk profile and disability-related needs presented an exceptionally difficult case for housing and that, despite their best efforts, it had not been possible to secure suitable accommodation any earlier.

Permission to proceed against the Parole Board and the Secretary of State was granted on the papers by Green J, but refused in respect of the London boroughs.

Mr Goldsworthy renewed his application for permission against Richmond, as the responsible housing authority. He relied on two grounds for claiming compensation: indirect discrimination/failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, and breach of article 8 of the ECHR.

At the renewal hearing. Gilbart J delivered an oral judgment and found that each of these grounds was bound to fail. He stated that the case involved conflicts between the policy interests of liberty, public safety and fair allocation of resources, although in a liberal democracy liberty was bound to be given paramount importance. The fact that a non-disabled person might have been housed more quickly than Mr Goldsworthy did not establish prima facie discrimination, since the length of time taken might simply reflect market conditions, which it was not alleged resulted from any policy or practice of Richmond.

As to the alleged breach of article 8, in R (McDonald) v Kensington & Chelsea RLBC the Supreme Court held that states enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation which allowed a balance to be struck between the competing interests of the individual and the community as a whole, and that limits on an authority's resources could be taken into account. In the circumstances, the claim under article 8 was not arguable.

Matt Hutchings QC of Cornerstone Barristers represented the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Richmond upon Thames.

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