Homeless claimant to take council to High Court over failure to give reasonable preference

A woman who was initially denied access to social housing even though her local authority classed her as homeless and in need of a home has gained permission for her legal challenge to the council's social housing allocation policy to be heard at the High Court.

Shanice Khayat is claiming that Westminster City Council failed to meet its statutory duty to give reasonable preference to homeless people under s.166A(3)(a) of the Housing Act 1996.

The claimant, who has severe depression and other health issues, first applied to the council seeking housing assistance as homeless in January 2020. 

The council accepted she was eligible for the homelessness relief duty as she was unemployed and living with her mother in a one-bedroom flat at the time. The claimant is the carer for her mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

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According to the council's website, if someone is owed the relief duty, it must take reasonable steps to help the person secure suitable accommodation. The duty lasts for up to 56 days and is available to all households who are homeless and eligible, regardless of whether they have a priority need, the page states.

While the council classed her as homeless, it did not class her as in 'priority need', which meant she could not join the housing register because she did not have medical priority. 

The woman applied to the council for a review, but the council again found she did not have a priority need.

This led her to appeal to the Central London County Court to dispute the decision. The county court overturned the council's decision on priority need and the council was required to do a further review. 

Following this, the council decided in May 2021 that she was in priority need and owed the main housing duty, and a month later, she was allowed onto the housing register.

At the High Court, the claimant is set to argue that there is a breach of statutory duty under s.166A(3)(a) of the Housing Act 1996, which says council housing allocation schemes must give "reasonable preference" to people who are homeless.

Her lawyers also claim that she continues to be disadvantaged as her position on the housing register is not backdated to when she first applied for housing support in January 2020.

William Ford, a lawyer at Osbornes Solicitors representing the claimant, told Inside Housing that the claimant is asking the court to declare that the part of the council's housing policy that prevents some homeless people from joining the housing register should be declared unlawful. 

Additionally, Inside Housing reported that the claimant is asking the local authority to declare that she should be placed on the housing register from either January 2020, when she first applied for homelessness support, or July 2020, when she first applied to be placed on the housing register.

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: "The council's housing allocation policy allows us to prioritise providing homes for people with the greatest need and those with links to the local area. This case is subject to ongoing legal proceedings and we are unable to comment further at this stage."

The High Court granted permission for the claim to be heard in October 2021. The date for the final hearing has yet to be set.  

Adam Carey