Earlier today (13 May) the Supreme Court gave a ruling on a case about the way local councils decide who is ‘vulnerable enough’ for housing help. The judgement is quite sensational. Until now, single homeless people had to prove that they were particularly vulnerable compared to other homeless people in order to qualify for support. This has now changed. They no longer have to show that they are more likely to come to harm (commit suicide, resort to drug use, etc.) than “an ordinary homeless person”.
That led to situations where single homeless people suffering from problems including depression and suicidal thoughts were deemed not vulnerable because “an ordinary homeless person” would also be expected to suffer from those problems. (I kid you not!).
The Supreme Court has, in effect, said that councils must do more to help single homeless people, that local authorities were failing to recognise homeless people in vulnerable situations.
Speaking to the BBC after the ruling, Giles Peaker, a partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, said it was the “most significant judgement in homeless law on vulnerable people in the past 10 to 15 years”.
He said, “The ruling makes it more likely that vulnerable, single homeless people will have their vulnerability taken seriously and it clears the way for them to go into priority need. Vulnerability had become almost impossible to demonstrate but this now gives purpose to the original intention of the law that people with more risk are given accommodation.”
Of course this ruling was based on three test cases, which had been supported by Crisis and Shelter, and is not a reflection on our local councils in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne, and Hastings. However, it does set the bar for councils, and could make challenges easier to define.
Of course, challenging a local council’s decision is the last thing we want to do. It is better all around, to work together to resolve individual cases of homelessness. That is why today I have published an open letter to councillors in Brighton and Hove calling on them to work with others, including BHT, to end the scourge of street homelessness, as far as it is possible, by 2019.
I also recently published an account of an advice worker’s attempt to get her local council to respond positively to help a suicidal 18 year old suicidal young woman. Do read her account. It brings into clear focus why this decision by the Supreme Court is so important.
Finally, given the law has been clarified on this matter, I do hope that central government will provide the necessary resources to allow councils to do what Parliament, and now the Supreme Court, expects them to do.