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Southwark Council found to have unlawfully turned away homeless people

High Court orders local authority to "cease" illegal policies with immediate effect

23 February 2015

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High Court orders local authority to "cease" illegal policies with immediate effect

Southwark Council must stop breaking the law by turning away homeless people who apply for housing in the borough, the High Court has ordered.

A successful judicial review, brought by solicitors acting for a homeless Iranian refugee, requires the London-based local authority to "cease with immediate effect the policies and practices", which led to the claimant and his family being told to look for accommodation in the private market before the council would investigate whether they were truly homeless.

Lara ten Caten of Hansen Palomares, who acted for the claimants, said: "For years we have been concerned about the way Southwark has been turning away homeless people in clear breach of the law.

"The victims have included refugees, a young person leaving care who was also a victim of domestic violence, a blind woman and many, many more. Some were refused temporary accommodation. When challenged, Southwark has always claimed that it was a mistake or some rogue officer who had misunderstood council policy."

However, on this occasion, Southwark's legal department responded in writing that it was council policy to send applicants to the private sector before investigating claims they were homeless. As a result of this policy, numbers of homeless applications were kept artificially low.

A judicial review claim was issued on in May 2014 before the council agreed to provide the claimant with suitable accommodation, although it still denied it was operating unlawfully.

Unfortunately for the local authority, the High Court found that this policy was against the law. Under the Housing Act 1996, local authorities must investigate applications from anyone "it has reason to believe may be homeless or threatened with homelessness" and provide temporary accommodation to those with children or who appear vulnerable.

Southwark has now submitted to the High Court order requiring it to abandon such practices, scrap misleading public information leaflets and inform homeless applicants of their rights.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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