The Court of Appeal has held that a homeless person cannot raise alleged breaches of the Equality Act 2010 in a homelessness appeal before a county court judge.
In comments on a case brought by homeless applicant Joy Adesotu against Lewisham London Borough Council, Landmark Chambers - which acted for the Equality and Human Rights Commission when it intervened in the case - said the ruling showed that a county court judge cannot make the findings of fact that would be necessary to deal with such claims.
The only route by which such claims can be brought is a free-standing claim under s.113, Equality Act 2010.
Bean LJ, with whom Lord Justice McCombe and Lord Justice Lewison agreed, said the issue raised was whether the county court has jurisdiction to determine allegations of discrimination in a statutory appeal brought under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996.
HHJ Luba had struck out certain paragraphs of Ms Adesotu's appeal to the county court.
She argued that these should be reinstated because Lewisham breached section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 by applying provisions, criteria or practices that were discriminatory in relation to her disability, and that it breached section 15 of the same Act by treating her unfavourably because of her delayed and equivocal decision as to whether to accept the accommodation offered, which Ms Adesotu said arose from her disability.
Bean LJ said these two grounds raised issues of disputed fact, the most important of which was whether or not Ms Adesotu was disabled.
“I cannot accept…that this was an issue of law,” the judge said. “Of course the statutory definition of disability is a question of law, but whether the appellant fell within it depended on findings of fact, followed by an evaluative judgment as to whether those facts fitted the statutory definition.
“This is not a purely technical point. A discrimination claim would have to be brought as a civil case resulting in disclosure, the service of witness statements, a trial before a judge and assessors, the cross-examination of witnesses and so forth.”