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Claimant wins housing case against council in part but judge rejects anonymity bid

A disabled resident has won part of her housing case against the London Borough of Croydon but failed in a late bid to be made anonymous.

In Imam, R (On the Application Of) v The London Borough of Croydon [2021] EWHC 739 Ruba Imam went to the High Court for judicial review of Croydon’s failure to provide her with suitable accommodation under section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996.

Croydon admitted breach of its statutory duty because the accommodation provided was not suitable.

The two sides though disputed the relief required. Ms Imam sought a mandatory order requiring Croydon to provide suitable accommodation. She also raised alleged breaches of the Equality Act 2010 and an allegation of unlawfully failing to determine her request to be given Band 1 priority under Croydon’s housing allocation scheme.

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The council argued that the breach was at the less serious end of that spectrum and that Ms Imam’s home was “nine-tenths suitable”.

Ms Imam is a wheelchair user. Her home has certain adaptations but she said it had not been sufficiently adapted for a wheelchair user.

Mathew Gullick QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, rejected the claim that Croydon was in breach of the public sector equality duty noting Ms Imam had received priority over non-disabled housing applicants.

He said that although Croydon was in breach of its statutory duty, he would not make a mandatory order as he accepted there was “a spectrum of seriousness” in terms of possible breaches.

“Although I would not adopt [the] description of the property as being nine-tenths suitable for the claimant, I do accept that on the evidence before me, the claimant has not established that the conditions in which she is presently living are having an extremely serious effect on her, or that the situation is ‘intolerable’, he said.

He also said that Croydon’s policies did not - as Ms Imam had argued - place disabled housing applicants at any substantial disadvantage.

Mr Gullick found though that Croydon unlawfully failed to consider putting her into Band 1 of its priority system.

He said: “In my judgment, [Croydon] acted unlawfully in failing to take any decision in response to the two express requests made by the claimant that she should be moved into Band 1.

“[She] is, in my judgment, correct in her submission that the defendant was under an obligation, as a matter of public law, to consider and decide those requests. It did not do so.”

Ms Imam though failed in her application to be made anonymous, with Mr Gullick saying in Imam, R (On the Application Of) v The London Borough of Croydon [2021] EWHC 736 the request was both late and unjustified.

He said the application was made only the afternoon before his reserved judgment was scheduled to be handed down, and he then held a hearing on it.

Mr Gullick said: “The claimant has been legally represented throughout.

“No application for anonymity was made in the claim form or in the accompanying statement of facts and grounds, which identified the claimant by her full name.”

The trial of Ms Imam’s housing claim had been accessible to the media and the public.

The judge accepted a submission on Ms Imam’s behalf that her rights under Article 8 ECHR were engaged and the matters she wanted anonymity for were “of an intensely personal nature”.

But the judge said no evidence has been relied on in support of the application for anonymisation.

There was no statement from Ms Imam and no medical or psychiatric evidence “expert or otherwise”.

Mr Gullick said: “It is not unreasonable to regard someone who initiates proceedings (certainly where they are, as the claimant is, an adult litigant of full capacity) as having accepted the normal incidence of the public nature of court proceedings.”

He concluded: “The material before me does not demonstrate that there would be a disproportionate interference with the claimant's rights under Article 8 ECHR by the trial judgment being given without there being anonymisation and reporting restrictions.

The concerns she raised were not of “such a degree as to necessitate the restriction on the fundamental principle of open justice”, the judge concluded.

Mark Smulian

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