As of 13th May 2015, single homeless people will no longer have to prove that they are particularly vulnerable in comparison to other homeless people in order to qualify for support.
The Supreme Court heard three joint appeals by homeless people: Johnson, Hotak and Kanu, backed by evidence from charities Crisis and Shelter. In each case the issue being considered was the councils’ decision that each homeless applicant were not vulnerable and therefore did not have a priority need under the Housing Act 1996 to accommodate them.
Let us have a quick recap of each case:
Johnson v Solihull
Mr Johnson, a recovering addict argued that he would be likely to relapse if homeless. In response, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council convinced the Court of Appeal that drug use was frequent amongst street homeless people (figures obtained from Homeless Link’s Survey of Needs and Provision 2010) and that the ‘ordinary homeless person ‘ was likely to use drugs or return to drugs. The Supreme Court found that Mr Johnson did not in fact suffer from depression and was either not misusing drugs or that his drugs problem would have no significant effect on his situation if made homeless.
Hotak v Southwark
Mr Hotak suffered from learning difficulties amongst other disabilities which meant that he required the assistance of his brother for his day to day routine. Southwark Council accepted that Mr Hotak’s disabilities would render him vulnerable, however, they argued that if street homeless, Mr Hotak’s brother would continue to provide him the day to day support and care that he would need which meant that he would not be ‘less able to fend for himself compared to an ordinary homeless person.’ Southwark were urged to reconsider their decision on the basis of the comparator.
Kanu v Southwark
Despite Mr Kanu suffering from hepatitis B and hypertension as well as psychotic symptoms and preoccupation with suicide, Southwark Council dismissed these as grounds to qualify him as a ‘priority’ given the fact that Mr Kanu had the assistance of his wife and son. The Supreme Court found that Mr Kanu was wrongfully denied care by Southwark as the wrong comparator had been used.
So, who is the comparator? Well, in the past, Councils’ have considered the issue of ‘vulnerability,’ using the Pereira test’ which originates from a 1998 Court of Appeal decision, which asks whether an applicant ‘is, when homeless, less able to fend for himself than an ordinary homeless person so that injury of detriment to him will result when a less vulnerable person would be able to cope will harmful effects.’
Along with this, Councils’ consider whether a homeless applicant or a member of their household is vulnerable by reason of ‘old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason'(section 189(1)(c) Housing Act 1996), or vulnerable by reason of fleeing violence/threats of violence, being formerly in care, or from a period of imprisonment.
The Courts ruling has said that vulnerability should be measured against the ‘ordinary person’ (the comparator) if rendered homeless, not against statistical evidence of the characteristics of existing ‘street homeless’ people. The Supreme Court has therefore lowered the bar for vulnerable people to be given priority status on the Council’s housing waiting list as their needs will now be assessed against those of an ‘ordinary person.’ The judgement also emphasises the need to treat vulnerable homeless people as individuals, paying ‘close attention to the particular circumstances of the applicant,’ and all his/her difficulties.