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Councils must follow their own rules in allocating housing

16 July 2008

Local authorities must follow their published criteria when deciding how to allocate council housing, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In R (on the application of Faarah) v the London Borough of Southwark [2008] EWCA Civ 807, the local authority introduced an unpublished administrative procedure for determining priority.

Ms Faarah lived in a council flat with her seven children on the top floor of a block in Peckham. She has a back condition which restricts her mobility and the block did not have a lift.

Giving judgment, Lord Justice Toulson said the Housing Act 1996 gave local authorities a wide discretion in devising their allocation schemes.

He said that having done so, the authority must allocate housing in accordance with the scheme.

However in this case he said the council had introduced an unpublished administrative practice which could not be squared with its own criteria.

As a result it had breached its duty under Section 167(8) of the Housing Act. Lord Justices Sedley and Wall agreed.

Robert Latham, housing specialist at Doughty Street Chambers, said it was unlikely that this was an isolated case of a local authority allocating accommodation unlawfully.

“Allocation schemes are an area of considerable public disquiet,” he said. “The move towards choice-based letting schemes has created much greater transparency, so that applicants can see where things are going wrong.”

He said that Southwark would have to change its practices promptly.

“The greater the social pressures, the more important it is to allocate housing fairly to those in greatest need.”

Rebekah Carrier, solicitor at Southwark law centre, said the council would not only have to amend its policy, but have to trace all those who had suffered in the way Ms Faarah had done.

“Other challenges are waiting for any local authority that fails to explain its decisions.”

Carrier said that Ms Faarah had since moved into a four bedroom house near her flat, but only because the law centre had launched a second judicial review.

Lord Justice Sedley praised the work done by Southwark Law Centre.

“As the history set out by Lord Justice Toulson shows, the law centre, by careful and well-informed correspondence, was able to locate and challenge the precise error of public administration which this appeal has confirmed.

“It is of importance to the administration of justice, as well as to many individuals, that there should continue to be law centres like Southwark's which are able to offer professional help of high calibre to the neediest people.”

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