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High Court finds council failed to carry out lawful housing needs assessment for asylum seeker

The London Borough of Havering acted unlawfully in providing an inadequate housing needs assessment and failing to prepare and keep under review a personalised housing plan (PHP) for an asylum seeker, ZK, the High Court has found.

In ZK, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Havering [2022] EWHC 1854 (Admin) Susie Alegre, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said the council failed to carry out its duties under section 189A of the Housing Act 1996.

ZK is a homeless refugee who lives with his wife and three young children in temporary accommodation provided by Havering.

He was given refugee status in January 2019 and so became eligible for mainstream housing assistance under Part 7 of the 1996 Act and also applied to the social housing register under Part 6 of the 1996 Act.

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Havering placed ZK in a very low priority band due to the short time he had been in the borough.

ZK challenged this banding decision through judicial review but this was withdrawn when Havering accepted its policy was indirectly discriminatory against refugees on grounds of race and agreed a higher priority banding would be backdated.

In March 2019 Havering accepted ZK was eligible for housing assistance under Part 7 of the 1996 Act as he was threatened with homelessness.  It also accepted it had a duty to assess his housing needs and provide a PHP.

In September 2019 Havering placed ZK and his family in temporary accommodation, which he felt was unsuitable and in October 2020 he sent pre-action correspondence requesting re-assessment of his housing needs, a revised PHP and a review of the suitability of the accommodation.

Havering issued another PHP but ZK felt this was no more lawful than the first and issued a second judicial review, which was withdrawn by consent.

In November 2021, Havering provided ZK with a third PHP, which he argued before Ms Alegre was not lawful either.

Havering then carried out a suitability review in which a housing officer concluded the accommodation was not suitable for the family because there were 26 steps up to the property and it was distant from the children's school

Ms Alegre noted: “Since these proceedings were issued, ZK and his family have been moved to new accommodation but they have not been provided with a new HNA or a PHP.”

The grounds of challenge were that Havering was in ongoing breach of its assessment and planning obligations under section 189A of the 1996 Act, and that the assessments and/or PHPs relied on by the council were otherwise irrational or vitiated by a failure to take account of relevant considerations and/or reliance on irrelevant considerations.

Ms Alegre said in her judgment: “I find that the distinction between the claimant's ‘wishes and desires' and his ‘needs' is not sufficiently clear as for it to be obvious to the 'reasonable and sensible housing officer’ what exactly is needed for the claimant and his family to find and retain suitable accommodation.

“The three PHPs make reference to ‘housing wishes' and there are notes throughout the documentation making reference to issues the claimant has advised about including health issues, information about his family and matters relating to the four core needs and the claimant's assertion that they need an extra bedroom.

“However, taken together, these observations do not amount to an assessment or identification of the claimant's housing needs that is accepted by the defendant. For these reasons, in my judgement, the current file does not constitute an adequate and lawful assessment of ZK's needs as required under s.189A of the 1996 Act.”

She said that having made this finding it was unnecessary for her to consider the irrationality ground.

Mark Smulian

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