James Cramp & Hastings Borough Council and Rainbow Phillips & London Borough of Camden [2005] EWCA Civ 1005

The first appeal was by Hastings Borough Council (Hastings) against a judgment by Hastings County Court which allowed the appeal of James Cramp (C) against the decision of a reviewing officer on his homelessness application.  The second appeal was by Camden Borough Council (Camden) for permission to appeal against a judgment by the Central London Court, whereby a similar order was made in favour of Rainbow Phillips (P).  Because the appeals were both made as a result of a decision by the county court, they had to meet the high threshold of CPR 52.13(2) for second appeals to the Court of Appeal.  Permission was granted for Hastings’ appeal and the Court of Appeal directed that the Camden appeal should be listed at the same time so that the Court could consider whether further guidance was needed.  The critical issue in both cases turned on the sufficiency of enquiries made by the local housing authorities at the decision and review stage of the housing application.

Under Part VII Housing Act 1996 when local housing authorities believe a person is or may be made homeless, it must make inquiries as are necessary to determine whether he or she is eligible for assistance and if so, what duty is owed to him under the Act.  S.193 of the Act places a duty on the local authority to secure accommodation where the applicant is homeless, is eligible for assistance and has a priority need.  Only one category of priority need was open to the applicants in this case, under s. (1) (c) “…. vulnerable as a result of ….mental illness or handicap or other special reason.”  In addition the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002, provided that a priority need would also include a person vulnerable as a result of a custodial sentence.  Where a review of a housing decision is requested, the reviewing officer must allow representations to be made by the applicant.  The reviewing officer must give reasons for his decision and the applicant may appeal against such a decision to the County Court on a point of law.

C’s Case

C had a trapped nerve in his back and symptoms of anxiety and depression.  He was also receiving treatment for substance misuse, but his psychiatrist could not categorically state that C had a mental disorder until his substance misuse was resolved. The reviewing officer decided that the applicant’s inability to fend for himself whilst homeless would not result in injury or detriment to him which would not be suffered by an ordinary homeless person who was able to cope.  R v Camden LBC and Pereira 1998 applied. It was decided that C was not in priority need.  C appealed to the County Court and claimed that Hastings had made insufficient inquiries about his mental health and the court agreed.  Hastings’ should have asked for independent psychiatric evidence of its own.  The thrust of Hastings’ appeal to the Court of Appeal was that medical evidence was not determinative of C’s priority need and that the reviewing officer was entitled to make decisions based on the medical evidence available.  This evidence did not bind the reviewing officer and was simply one of a number of relevant pieces of evidence that should be considered.
P’s Case

P suffered serious burns to his leg and forearms when he was 14 and needed the services of a psychiatrist.  He was made homeless by his mother when he was 17 and he applied to Camden for housing.  He was provided with temporary accommodation for 4 months.  When he was 19, he served 3 months of a 9 month prison sentence for disqualified driving.  On his release he made a further homelessness application.  He was found to be eligible for assistance but not in priority need.  His medical reports were considered by the reviewing officer but applying Pereira (above) he was found “no less able to fend for himself when homeless, than his peers, so that injury or detriment to him would not result when a more vulnerable person would not be able to cope without harmful effect.”  P’s solicitors requested a review on the basis of amongst other reasons, the 2002 Order i.e. P had been made vulnerable as result of a prison sentence.  In upholding the initial decision the reviewing officer gave detailed reasons and stated that there was no evidence to indicate that P’s time in prison had had a detrimental impact on his mental health or his ability to fend for himself if homeless.  In P’s appeal to the County Court, it was held that Camden had failed to make adequate enquiries of his GP and probation officer.  The judge was not satisfied that the reviewing officer had considered all social and medical factors relevant to the case and P’s appeal was upheld.

The Court of Appeal held that the judges in both C and P’s case had made the same mistake.  Parliament had imposed the duty on housing officers to decide on and review housing decisions.  It was for the council to decide what enquiries were necessary and it was susceptible to challenge if and only if a judge in the county court considered no reasonable council could have failed to regard as necessary the further enquiries suggested by the appellants advisors. (In neither case had the parties solicitors suggested that medical report should not be accepted at face value.)  In C’s case it was the duty of the reviewing officer to decide whether it was necessary to make any further enquiries of the psychiatrist before making her decision.  The judge was wrong to think only a psychiatrist could answer the Pereira question.  It was not open to him to hold that no reasonable council would have refrained from making further enquiries into C’s mental health.  In P’s case it was “pure speculation” to think that an approach to a probation officer would have yielded more information.  It was not open to the judge to hold that no reasonable council would have refrained from making these further enquiries and the judge should not have interfered with Camden’s decision.

Appeal allowed in Hastings’ case.  Permission and appeal allowed in Camden’s case

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