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Asylum seeker wrongly declared as intentionally homeless by Council

Westminster City Council wrongly declared an asylum seeker intentionally homeless after she left a flat in Middlesbrough because of the activities of an intruder.

Mr Justice Soole, sitting in the High Court, said Westminster must reconsider the application of Dora Tendresse Ibrahim.

He said there was no dispute that Ms Ibrahim otherwise met the statutory requirements, by being homeless, eligible for assistance and having a priority need for accommodation as a vulnerable person within the meaning of s.189(1)© of the Housing Act 1996.

Ms Ibrahim arrived in 2014 from the Democratic Republic of Congo where she believed her life was under threat.

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She was provided with National Asylum Seeker Service accommodation in Middlesbrough and suffered harassment by a gang in her first home there and in the second a neighbour entered her flat through a window and found her naked in the bathroom.

She fled to friends in London and applied to Westminster when she could no longer stay with them.

Westminster deemed her intentionally homeless as the police “advised you had previously had good relations with this neighbour [in Middlesbrough] and he had previously been allowed to enter your home without permission”.

It noted the police had not pressed charges; and had not advised her to leave for her own safety.

The judge said: “This account of the information from the police does not reflect the terms of a file note of the telephone conversation dated 27.6.18 between [housing officer] Mr Persaud and the police.

“This includes ‘The police arrested the neighbour at his own home and he advised he had good relations with the client and had regularly been allowed to enter her home without permission.

“‘He advised that on this occasion he'd gone to her home to return a kettle and inadvertently the client had been in the bath at the time. The client made a statement to the police but no charges were pressed against her neighbour. They gave the client home safety advice regarding keeping her windows and door locked.’”

Westminster referred to the month’s interval between the bathroom incident and Ms Ibrahim giving notice to her landlord and concluded that she had become homeless intentionally.

After consulting the Notre Dame Refugee Centre, Ms Ibrahim made a fresh application for housing assistance, which stressed an “intense return” of her post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and a doctor’s opinion that it would be significantly detrimental for her to be forced to return to Middlesbrough.

Westminster though refused to treat this as a new application rather than a repeat of the earlier one.

The judge said: “I am fully persuaded that the council's decision is wrong and cannot stand.

"First, I do not accept [its] submission that a new application is dependent on the occurrence of a new fact or circumstance or event which postdates the original decision.”

He added: “I can see neither authority or reason to exclude a relevant new fact or circumstance which does not postdate the original decision; not least, as here, where the relevant material has been supplied to the authority but by some error has not been placed before the review officer.”

Were Ms Ibrahim trying to game the system by making repeat applications, the council would be able to reject those as abuses, but “in the present case there is no question of any abuse of the system by this claimant”.

He said Westminster gave “no consideration to the evidence of the claimant’s history of trauma and associated mental state as bore directly on the issue of whether it was reasonable for her to continue to occupy the accommodation in Middlesborough”.

Mark Smulian

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