Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

Slattery -v- Basildon Borough Council

Southend County Court, 21 December 2012, HHJ Moloney QC

This case involved three homeless appeals under Housing Act (HA) 1996 Section 204 by Travellers from the Dale Farm site against the review decisions of Basildon BC (BBC) as to the suitability of offer of “bricks and mortar” (b & m) accommodation made to the Travellers.

All of the Appellants relied on medical reports (two from psychiatrist and one from a psychologist) to argue that b & m was unsuitable on the grounds of aversion to conventional housing.  This case follows on from the Court of Appeal judgment in Sheridan – v – Basildon BC [2012] EWCA Civ 35, 12 March 2012.

With regard to the arguments presented in the Slattery case as to alleged failures by BBC in respect of the provision of Travellers’ sites, HHJ Moloney QC felt bound by the decision in Sheridan and dismissed these grounds of appeal, subject to the fact that there might be exceptional cases “where the degree of impairment to the physical or mental wellbeing of the applicant consequent on their being housed in the accommodation will be so serious that nothing can justify it being treated as suitable” (Sheridan, Patten LJ, para 49).

The Appellants in Slattery argued that, in Sheridan, the medical problems relied on were held not to flow solely from the potential move to b & m but from the process of eviction from Dale Farm itself and the loss of family and community support that that would entail.

HHJ Moloney QC stated that it was the duty of BBC in this case, on being presented with applications which raised medical grounds as to why b & m was unsuitable, to decide whether it needed to make further enquiries, specifically the obtaining of further medical evidence.  BBC’s review panel (consisting of two officers) did not address the question of whether it should obtain its own medical evidence in any of the three cases.

Two of the appeals were dismissed.  However, the appeal by Joanne Sheridan was allowed.  The medical evidence from a psychologist, Professor Skinner, concentrated on the Appellant’s father-in-law, James Sheridan.  HHJ Moloney QC concluded:-

Professor Skinner’s report clearly stated that there was a risk of physical harm, perhaps death, to Mr Sheridan as a consequence, not of the eviction but of the move to bricks and mortar.  And he expressly suggested that [the Review Panel] might wish to obtain a geriatrician’s report.  There is no evidence that that clear advice from an experienced clinical professional was given any consideration at all……

The panel’s failure to understand or apply Professor Skinner’s report confirms my clear view that it needed further medical evidence and that it was Wednesbury unreasonable (and inconsistent with the family’s human rights) to reach a decision without obtaining any further medical evidence as Professor Skinner had himself recommended.

A copy of the judgment is attached to this article.