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Gay asylum seeker in need of 'care and attention'

11 August 2011

A gay asylum seeker who tried to kill himself after finding out his partner had died in an Iranian prison was in need of ‘care and attention’ by his local council, appeal judges have ruled.

This meant that the council had a duty to find housing for the man, known as SL, under section 21(1)a of the National Assistance Act 1948.

Delivering judgment in SL v Westminster City Council and others [2011] EWCA Civ 954, Lord Justice Laws said the man, known as SL, came to the UK at the age of 16.

His asylum application, based on fear of persecution in Iran on account of his sexual orientation as a gay man, was refused in 2007.

SL became homeless in October 2009 and tried to kill himself in December, apparently after learning of the death of his boyfriend.

He was admitted to a mental health unit and discharged last year, suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Laws LJ said Westminster Council’s decision was in effect that the appellant was not in need of “care and attention” within the meaning of section 21(1)a of the Act.

He said that the council’s position was that the only support it provided SL after his discharge was a weekly meeting with a social worker.

However, counsel for SL said he also had regular meetings with a ‘befriender’ found for him by the Westminster Befriender Service at his social worker’s request.

The social worker had also promised to put SL in touch with two gay counselling organisations which had already visited the Iranian in hospital.

Laws LJ said the High Court had underestimated the nature of the support provided by the social worker.

He said SL’s social worker was “doing something for the appellant which he cannot do for himself: he is monitoring his mental state so as to avoid if possible a relapse or deterioration.

“He is doing it, no doubt, principally through their weekly meetings; but also by means of the arrangements for contact (or the renewal of contact) with the two counselling groups, and with the ‘befriender’.

“It is to be noted that care and attention within the subsection is not limited to acts done by the local authority’s employees or agents. And I have already made it clear that the subsection does not envisage any particular intensity of support in order to constitute care and attention.”

Laws LJ concluded that the support provided by Westminster Council constituted “care and attention”.

He said it would not be “reasonably practicable and efficacious” for the council to provide the services it was providing without finding accommodation for SL.

He agreed with SL’s counsel that it would be “absurd to provide a programme of assistance and support through a care co-ordinator” without also providing accomodation.

Laws LJ allowed the appeal. Lord Justices Richards and Rimer agreed.

Victoria Pogge von Strandmann, solicitor at Maxwell Gillott, acted pro bono for Freedom from Torture, which intervened in the case.

“This judgment clarifies that local authorities owe a duty to accommodate and support those who need looking after as a result of mental health problems, including trauma resulting from torture, where accommodation is necessary in order for that care and attention to be effective,” von Strandmann said.

“It will ensure that some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society receive the accommodation and support that they so desperately need from social services.”

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