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Social Housing Speed Read – Troy Guiste v Lambeth London Borough Council

In this week's speed read we consider the recent case of Troy Guiste v Lambeth London Borough Council, in which the Court reviewed a decision by Lambeth LBC that an applicant for homelessness assistance was not vulnerable within the meaning of s.189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996.

Under s.189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996, the following person has a priority need for accommodation:

“a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside”.

In Troy Guiste v Lambeth London Borough Council, Mr Guiste was a 23 year old man who suffered from physical and mental health problems. Physically, Mr Guiste suffered from hypoparathyroidism – a thyroid condition which can lead to a range of complications and, in particular, convulsions. He also suffered from a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, auditory and visual hallucinations. As a result, Mr Guiste had previously self-harmed and attempted to commit suicide.

Mr Guiste had lived with his mother in local authority rented accommodation from a young age. However, in May 2017, the local authority found that his mother had intentionally made herself homeless by unlawfully subletting her previous home. As a result, Mr Guiste was faced with the prospect of becoming homeless and applied to Lambeth LBC for homelessness assistance.

Lambeth LBC considered the psychiatric report of Dr Freedman (that was prepared on Mr Guiste’s instructions), and the report of NowMedical (that was prepared on Lambeth LBC’s instructions). Ultimately, Lambeth LBC arrived at the decision that, although Mr Guiste was homeless, he was not vulnerable by reference to the definition in s.189(1)(c) of the Housing Act 1996. Consequently, Mr Guiste did not have a priority need for accommodation. As a result, Mr Guiste applied for a review of this decision and a further appeal has led to the present case in discussion.

The Court held that the test for determining whether a person is vulnerable is a comparative one. A person is vulnerable if he is significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person who is in need of accommodation as a result of being rendered homeless.

The Court then proceeded to review the decision reached by Lambeth LBC that Mr Guiste was not vulnerable. Mr Guiste’s physical disability was considered first. It was held by the Court that Lambeth LBC’s reviewing officer had properly appreciated the nature of Mr Guiste’s disability and his need for medication. As a result, she was entitled to form her own judgment on the effect that being homeless would have on Mr Guiste’s ability to take his medication. It was appropriate for her to conclude that being homeless would not negatively affect his ability to take his medication. Therefore, this element of Lambeth LBC’s decision making was upheld.

However, the Court then considered the decision reached in relation to Mr Guiste’s mental health problems. Dr Freedman had reached the conclusion that Mr Guiste’s mental health would deteriorate if he was homeless and that this would expose him to an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. The Court held that Lambeth LBC’s reviewing officer had simply dismissed this conclusion without providing sufficient reasons. The Court held that there had not been a consideration of all the relevant evidence and that there was not an adequately reasoned conclusion. As a result, the Court viewed these failings as an error of law due to a breach of the principles of rationality and fair decision-making. As a consequence, this element of the decision was quashed and it was ordered that a different reviewing officer should reconsider Mr Guiste’s application.

This judgment clearly illustrates the importance of considering, in detail, an application for homelessness assistance, especially where the issue of vulnerability is raised. The circumstances of the applicant must be taken into consideration and any medical evidence must be considered carefully. Any decision reached must be supported by sufficient reasons and explanations, or the decision will be at risk of review by the Courts.

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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