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Claimant fails in damages claim against council for housing breaches

A woman left in unsuitable housing is not entitled to damages from the London Borough of Enfield, the High Court has said.

Nigel Poole QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said the council’s degree of culpability in the matter was “not great”.

Martina McDonagh made a claim for damages for breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights arising out of alleged breaches of statutory duty under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996.

She had lived with her three children - the eldest of whom has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy - in a two-storey home unsuitable for the family’s needs.

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Ms McDonagh applied to Enfield for housing in March 2015 but no suitable alternative accommodation was secured until early 2018.

In McDonagh, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Enfield [2018] EWHC 1287 (Admin) the judge said Enfield was making efforts from January 2016 to find suitable accommodation for the family and was in breach of statutory duty because it could and should have taken more steps by recognising its duties lay under Part VII, “but this is not a case of a flagrant breach where the claimant's needs were wholly disregarded. The degree of culpability on the defendant's part is not great”.

He said the court had to consider whether there is a “direct and immediate link” between the measures originally sought by Ms McDonagh and her private and/or family life.

It had also to consider the balance between the general interest and the interests of the individual: “In this case that balance involves taking account of the practical difficulties the defendant did have in finding suitable accommodation, and would have had even if, as they should, they had managed the claimant's accommodation application under Part VII from December 2015.”

The judge said Ms McDonagh had said she has spent an additional three hours a day caring for Thomas as a result of the unsuitable accommodation.

“If that is right it is a substantial additional burden which no-one would wish to bear, but it does not, in my judgment, amount to a denial of her own Article 8 right to physical and psychological integrity or development or her right to family life,” he found.

“In all the circumstances it would afford just satisfaction for the court to make a declaration that the defendant had acted incompatibly with the claimant's Article 8 rights but not to award damages.”

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