Homelessness: equality duty and suitability
The case Hackney LBC v Haque  EWCA Civ 4 concerns the public sector equality duty in the context of suitability and provides guidance on the approach required of local authorities.
Mr Haque was acknowledged to be disabled within Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 on account of his chronic neck and back pain and depression. He was accepted as homeless by the London Borough of Hackney and offered one room in a hostel in discharge of the local authority’s duty under Section 193(2) of the Housing Act 1996. However Mr Haque claimed that the accommodation was unsuitable because of its size and rule prohibiting visitors which he argued exacerbated his physical and mental health conditions. On review the local authority upheld its decision that the offered accommodation was suitable.
In the County Court HHJ Luba QC quashed the decision of the local authority on the basis that it did not comply with the equality duty, holding that (in almost all circumstances) a local authority must spell out in express terms its reasoning under the Equality Act when upholding a decision as to suitability and in this case the reviewer had failed to address what was required.
However the Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal by the London Borough of Hackney, holding that a decision letter relating to suitability must evidence the following to be compliant with the public sector equality duty (para. 43 of the judgement): (1) a recognition of disability within the meaning of Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 (2) a focus on the specific aspects of the impairments to the extent relevant to the suitability of the accommodation (3) a focus on the consequences of such impairments in terms of the disadvantages in using the accommodation and by comparison with persons without such impairments (4) a focus on the particular needs in relation to accommodation arising from those impairments by comparison with the needs of persons without such impairments, and the extent to which the proposed accommodation met those needs (5) a recognition that the particular needs arising from the impairments might require that applicant to be treated more favourably in terms of the provision of accommodation than others not suffering from disability or other protected characteristic (6) a review of the suitability of the accommodation which paid regard to those matters.
In cases such as this one where the subject matter of the review and the public sector equality duty are so related, a thorough suitability review meeting the above will comply with the public sector equality duty even if the decision is worded without express reference to the language of the Equality Act 2010. London Borough of Hackney’s review decision fell within this category and as such the Court of Appeal considered that HHJ Luba QC was wrong to quash the review decision and the local authority‘s appeal was accordingly allowed. The duty required the reviewer to ‘apply sharp focus upon the particular aspects of Mr Haque’s disabilities and to ask himself with rigour, and with an open mind, whether the particular disadvantages and needs arising from them were such that Room 315 was suitable as his accommodation’ (para. 44).