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Supreme Court to hear appeal from mother forced to move 50 miles from family

Lawyers say court guidance needed to prevent councils from engaging in mass social cleansing of the poor

3 February 2015

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Lawyers say court guidance needed to prevent councils from engaging in mass social cleansing of the poor

A mother of five made homeless by Westminster Council has been granted leave to appeal a decision to re-house her 50 miles away in Milton Keynes.

Titina Nzolameso and her family were evicted from their home in November 2012 due to rent arrears arising from government cuts to housing benefit. She was offered accommodation in Milton Keynes in January 2013, but did not accept the offer on the grounds of unsuitability and pursued a review of the council's decision through the courts.

Nzolameso argues that Westminster Council failed to examine all the available housing in or near the borough when it made its decision and therefore acted unlawfully. On 22 October 2014, the Court of Appeal refused Nzolameso's appeal against the decision by Westminster Council.

In considering whether it was "reasonably practicable" to find Nzolameso suitable accommodation in the borough, Justice Moore-Bick said that it was not necessary for Westminster to explain in detail what other accommodation was available.

Moore-Bick J ruled the borough was allowed to take "a broad range of factors" into account, including the "pressures" on the council, when deciding what housing was available.

Following the Court of Appeal decision, Nzolameso was made homeless after Westminster Council ceased to provide her with temporary accommodation. Her five children, aged between 8 and 14 years old, have been separated into three care homes.

However, Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA), acting for Nzolameso's, successfully applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal decision.

HJA believes the judgment is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the Housing Act which requires councils to house applicants within their local housing authority in so far as reasonably practicable.

Jayesh Kunwardia of HJA commented: "The decision of the Court of Appeal sets a terrible precedent for local authorities to engage in social cleansing of the poor on a mass scale. It cannot be right that council tenants are threatened with homelessness unless they agree to uproot themselves from communities they have lived in for years.

"Westminster, like other councils, is under great financial pressure but this case heightens the need for the court's scrutiny otherwise councils may be tempted to save money by moving homeless households out of their area."

She continued: "In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that the council looked to find accommodation in or closer to Westminster for my client at all. This decision brings long-awaited fresh hope for my client and is one of the most important social housing judgments for decades."

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

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