Connors v Forest of Dean DC, Bristol County Court, Recorder Blunt QC
Ms Connors is an Irish Traveller with 5 children, 2 of whom are disabled owing to a lung condition and hearing impairments. She had travelled all her life except for a short period in which she lived in a house. In June 2014 she had to leave a Traveller site in Stroud and relocated to the Forest of Dean District Council (‘FoD’) area.
She moved her caravan onto a former Traveller site and commenced occupation. Her sister, who helped her with managing the children, lived just 5 minutes away. FoD commenced possession proceedings and Ms Connors made a homeless application. In August 2014, FoD decided that Ms Connors was owed a full re-housing duty but that she did not have a local connection with the FoD area because she was not normally resident or employed or had any enduring family relationships with others in the area, and also that there were no special circumstances to take into account. Accordingly, her local connection was with Stroud DC and they sought to refer her back there. That decision was upheld in a homeless review in December 2014. An appeal was subsequently issued.
The appeal raised seven grounds of appeal including that FoD had erred in law in failing to take account of or have any regard to Ms Connors’ protected characteristic, namely being a member of an ethnic group of Irish Travellers capable of being discriminated against on the grounds of her membership of that group. In particular, that FoD had failed to properly consider: (a) how long a Traveller’s relatives should be required to be normally resident in an area before establishing a connection by family association, as by the very nature of their way of life residence for five years is much less likely to be established than if they were not a Traveller; and (b) in failing to have regard to the same matters when deciding to exercise its discretion to refer and, in doing so, failing to comply with its public sector equality duty under s149 Equality Act 2010. It was submitted that the travelling way of life means by its very nature that Irish Travellers are less likely to remain in particular areas for long periods, and that this should be taken into account in considering whether an Irish Traveller is normally resident in that area or has a local connection by reason of family associations. Irish Travellers might well have areas to which they resort much more often than others, and the likelihood that due to their way of life they may stay in one area for shorter periods should be taken into account in deciding whether they have a local connection. This is underlined by s149 Equality Act 2010, which requires, in relation to every decision taken by a public authority, proper consideration of their protected characteristic and whether it should be taken into account in the decision making process. The respondent council only considered this question in relation to what accommodation could be provided and this was plainly inadequate.
The appeal was allowed on 6 of the 7 grounds, including the Equality Act ground. Recorder Blunt QC found that, while the FoD had been mindful of the fact that Ms Connors is an Irish Traveller with protected characteristics:-
they only took account of those characteristics when referring to attempts to find an alternative traveller’s pitch, as well as in relation to the suitability of conventional housing. However, it is plain that no account was taken of them in relation to the question of whether or not the Appellant has a local connection with the Respondents’ district by reason of the length of her residence or her sister’s residence there: this is because the Review Panel effectively treated any periods of residence short of those set out in the guidelines… as being irrelevant. The Review Panel …were obliged to take account of the Appellant’s and her sister’s ‘protected characteristic’. Again, therefore, I consider this ground of appeal to be made out.
Ms Connors was represented by barrister James Stark of Garden Court North Chambers and solicitor Craig Keenan at CLP.
Please see the attached Judgment.