Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue

February – March 2024 : The little things READ ONLINE


Upfront: Legal challenge

December 01 2014
Court to rule on ‘vulnerability’ of homeless people

Three homeless people, turned away after seeking council help, are taking on the authorities in the Supreme Court this month with the help of two of the UK’s most influential homeless charities.

The cases of three homeless men, two of whom were refused assistance by the London Borough of Southwark and one by Solihull in the West Midlands, have already been rejected by the courts, despite putting forward “strong submissions”.

However, due to the invention of Crisis and Shelter, the Supreme Court will now be asked to reconsider how local authorities judge people to be “vulnerable” enough to be rehoused.

The homeless charities say that the outcome could address a “longstanding injustice” that has forced many people on to the streets after being turned away by their local council.

As the law stands in England, when a person comes to their council as homeless, they must prove that they are ‘vulnerable’ enough to qualify as a ‘priority’ for housing.

But homelessness charities have evidence of local councils judging people in desperate situations as “not vulnerable”, including women fleeing domestic violence, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health problems and young people forced out of the family home.

Last month, an investigation by Crisis found that people were routinely turned away, especially in London, without being given the help and support they were entitled to.

Jon Sparkes, the charity's chief executive, said: “Local councils are wrongly refusing to help homeless people who come to them in desperate need as they do not consider them to be ‘vulnerable enough’.

“This has led to many people being turned away to sleep on the streets. The average age of death for a homeless person is just 47 – a shocking state of affairs in 21st century England.

"If the Supreme Court addresses this longstanding injustice, and people are judged fairly when they ask for help from their local council, protection for homeless people could be greatly improved.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, added: “In Britain 90,000 children will wake up on Christmas morning without a place to call home. With more and more people facing the nightmare of losing their home, it’s vital we ensure that everyone who finds themselves in this desperate situation is treated fairly and given the help they are entitled to.”

Giles Peaker, partner at Anthony Gold Solicitors, who has been instructed by Crisis as part of its intervention, said the case could be very significant in the way that local authorities treat homeless people seeking help in the future.

“For single homeless people, their only chance of being found in priority need, so that the Council has a duty to accommodate them, is if they are found to be vulnerable,” he said.

However, recently, the Court of Appeal has only considered people to be vulnerable in extreme cases. Someone who is street homeless, depressed or even suicidal is not considered by the court to fit the criteria.

“If the Supreme Court changes the way the vulnerability test works, this will be very significant for single homeless people with physical or mental health issues, or other problems that make them vulnerable,” he added.

The cases are due to be heard at the Supreme Court from 15 December 2014. Last year, 113,270 people in England approached their council as homeless, while rough sleeping has risen by 37 percent over three years.

Turned away in crisis

Last month Crisis published Turned Away: the treatment of single homeless people by local authority homelessness services in England. Eight “mystery shoppers” visited homelessness services in 16 areas. In 50 out of 87 cases, they received “inadequate or insufficient help”.

”They just said I needed to go away and get a friend to come and help fill in the form... I thought that somebody might take the cue then to say this is what we suggest with people who can’t read and write, but there was no Plan B.”
Learning difficulties (male)

“Got a ticket and waited for an hour for a receptionist... and I waited for another hour [to see a Housing Advisor] – a painful wait in a loud and unpleasant waiting area...”
Domestic violence (male)

“It was embarrassing having to explain everything in front of all the other waiting people and then be told that I could not get any help. There was no privacy.”
Young person (male)

“I was told to go to a callbox that night and call London Street Rescue to tell them where I’d be sleeping so they could find me and help me.”
Rough sleeper (female)