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Social Housing Speed Read – Considerations upon property modification requests

This week, we consider the recent case of R (McKeown) v London Borough of Islington, in which the High Court reviewed Islington Council's decision to refuse a disabled facilities grant (DFG) on the basis that the property in question was inherently unsuitable for a disabled tenant.

Glynis McKeown was the secure tenant of a two-story flat in Islington which she shared with her husband. After many years of health difficulties, she was registered as disabled in 2019 due to the amputation of her right leg which left her dependent on the use of a wheelchair. As a result, the property underwent alterations to assist Mrs McKeown – including the installation of handrails in the toilet and two stair lifts to allow her access to the upper floor of her home. There was also a ramp that allowed access to the back garden of the property however, this was the only point of exit from the confines of her home that she could use herself. Mrs McKeown’s only other option was to leave her home with the help of her adult sons carrying her to street level via the steps leading to and from the front door.

Mrs McKeown applied to the Council for a DFG to fund a platform lift that would allow her to access street level via her front door independently. This application was refused. The Council explained that they did not deem the Mrs McKeown’s property to be suitable for her needs and further stated that the works requested were not practicable. They suggested a move to alternative, more suitable accommodation.

Mrs McKeown did not accept this, explaining that she and her husband had an emotional attachment to the property, and did not wish to leave their friends and family in their local area, or the familiarity of their surroundings. She maintained her DFG application and also sought a mandatory order compelling the council to approve her application for a DFG under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, and a mandatory order compelling the council to commission the works.

The High Court determined that the Council’s decision should be quashed and that it had 10 weeks to reconsider Mrs McKeown’s application. The Judge stated “in my judgement it is not lawful to refuse a DFG on the ground that the Claimant must move her home”.

The Court also highlighted that DFGs are not exclusive to local authority tenants. It held that interpretation of the relevant legislation must be capable of accommodating not only local authority tenants but tenants generally and owner occupiers. Had Mrs McKeown exercised her right to buy, it would not be open to the Council to refuse the grant on the basis that she must sell her property and move elsewhere. Therefore, the suggestion that she should simply move properties was not a valid reason for refusal of the grant.

Further, the legislation states that all works requested must be “necessary and appropriate”. In its interpretation of this, the Court found that the appropriateness of the works must be judged by reference to the needs which they are designed to serve. In this case, Mrs McKeown’s need to access and exit her home “. The installation of a platform lift was confined to this need only, and was entirely appropriate given the circumstances.

This case is of particular interest due to the Court’s finding that the appropriateness of the works to which an DFG application relates must be assessed by reference to the needs which they are designed to serve only. It also makes clear that local authority tenants should not be assessed differently from other tenants or homeowners, simply because of that fact.

All housing providers should bear this decision in mind when considering applications for adaptations in light of individual needs – particularly if they are making a DFG application on behalf of a tenant or otherwise supporting them. These factors could also have a bearing upon whether adaptations may be “reasonable adjustments” for the purposes of S.20 of the Equality Act 2010 – albeit the overall suitability of the property for those adaptations is likely to be more relevant in that case.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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