England: Supreme Court judgement to see councils revise homeless provision
The Supreme Court has handed down a judgement that will change the way English local authorities determine who is vulnerable enough for help with their housing.
The ruling means single homeless people will no longer have to prove they are more vulnerable than ‘an ordinary street homeless person’ in order to qualify for support, a position which meant many people with depression or suicidal thoughts were disqualified.
Housing charities Crisis and Shelter made interventions in the appeal, arguing that vulnerability must be determined in relation to ordinary people.
Previously, councils had decided whether someone was vulnerable by comparing them with ‘an ordinary street homeless person’. This resulted in councils deciding that people with depression, risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts were not vulnerable, because this was no different to what an ordinary street homeless person suffered. Sometimes statistics were used to show the prevalence of such issues among the street homeless.
The result was that, in order to be considered as ‘vulnerable’, a homeless applicant potentially had to be even more vulnerable than people already suffering from the bad effects of long term homelessness.
In the joined cases of Johnson, Hotak and Kanu, the Supreme Court found that the procedure of the London Borough of Southwark and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council was wrong, and that the local authorities should consider whether the homeless applicant is more vulnerable than “an ordinary person if made homeless, not an ordinary actual homeless person”.
The court also decided that while support from family members could be taken into account when determining an applicant’s vulnerability, councils also have to consider whether that support is consistent and predictable.
Responding to the judgement, Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “This ruling represents a major step in tackling the injustice faced by so many single homeless people in England today.
“During our intervention in this case, the Court heard evidence of just how horrific a homeless person’s life has to be before they qualify for council help. The average age of death for a homeless person is just 47; they are over nine times more likely to commit suicide and 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence. It’s a scandal that someone facing this kind of life can be told they’re not vulnerable enough for help.
“The reality is that anyone sleeping on the streets is vulnerable, and we applaud today’s ruling for making it easier for people to get help. The Court is also clear that while councils are often under huge financial strain, this must not be used as an excuse for avoiding their legal duties.”
Sparkes added: “Despite this ruling, we still have a long way to go. The legal entitlements for single homeless people remain inadequate and many will still be turned away from help – cold, desperate and forgotten by wider society. That’s why we will continue to push for a change in the law so that all homeless people can get the help they need.
“At the same time, central Government must ensure councils have the funding they need to support people out of homelessness for good.”
Giles Peaker of Anthony Gold, who acted for Crisis in the intervention, said he was delighted that the Supreme Court agreed with their case.
He added: “The purpose of the law was to ensure that people who are at more risk of suffering harm when homeless are given accommodation. The test for vulnerability had become such a high hurdle that vulnerable people were turned away. The Supreme Court has set out clearly how the law should work to fulfil its purpose.”
Crisis blog: How vulnerable?