Court of Appeal quashes homelessness “vulnerability” decision

The Court of Appeal has given further guidance on the vexed meaning of vulnerability for the purposes of the homelessness provisions in the Housing Act 1996, Part 7, and the handling of medical evidence.

The Client, Mr Guiste, suffered from potentially significant physical and mental health issues.  On his application to the London Borough of Lambeth for homelessness assistance, they found that he was not “vulnerable”, a decision that was upheld on review.  During the review process, Mr Guiste was interviewed and assessed by Dr Judith Freedman, a distinguished consultant psychiatrist.  Lambeth took advice from various medical health professionals, including psychiatrists, at NowMedical.

The Court quashed the review decision on the basis that there was no rational explanation as to why Dr Freedman’s opinion had been disregarded, nor why the views of NowMedical should have prevailed.  Accordingly, the review decision did not reach the standards of rationality and fair decision-making.  The Court confirmed that the comparison to be made is with an ordinary person who is in normal health and does not have the physical or mental health or disabilities of the type that would render them vulnerable.  The Court also found that there was no requirement of “functionality” which needs to be satisfied for the purposes of an assessment of vulnerability. 

Finally, the Court was provisionally of the view that section 31(2A), Senior Courts Act 1981 – which enables the Court to refuse relief if it appears highly likely that the outcome would not be substantially different on a further review – had no application to statutory appeals in homelessness cases.

Martin Westgate QC and David Cowan acted for Mr Guiste, instructed by Edward Taylor of Osbornes.

Judgment can be found here.