Courts are increasingly ruling that social
services departments have a duty to provide suitable housing as
part of a care package, says Luke Clements. And legislation is
expected to progress this trend.
I wonder how many of today’s social workers
were practising in the Cathy Come Home days, when it was the social
services department that had the duty to provide accommodation for
homeless people? The film of course prompted the Housing Homeless
Persons Act 1977, which sought to transfer this function to housing
At the time this was a welcome reform. But there has been mounting
concern since then that the role of housing has been neglected in
relation to the community care needs of disabled people. A 1993
Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, for example, concluded that
housing was the “basic requirement Ð the foundation – of
In similar vein, a 1998 Audit Commission report highlighted housing
as the single most important service required by people with mental
health problems to live independently in the community.
The courts have also, it appears, reached the same conclusion and
there are now a significant number of decisions where social
services have been required to provide suitable housing as part of
a care package.
Some recent cases illustrate this point. In R v Islington LBC ex p
Batantu (2000) the applicant (who lived in a 12th floor property)
was assessed as needing: a ground floor property with enough space
to house him and his family; and safe, secure and easily accessible
accommodation. Social services then referred him to the housing
The court held that the duty to accommodate lay with social
services, not the housing department and made a mandatory order to
provide the accommodation.In R v Richmond LBC ex p T (2000) the
applicant was assessed as ready to return from supported (mental
health) lodgings to ordinary housing in the community. His doctor
wrote: “He is requesting to get accommodation in a street house in
a residential area which I believe is entirely justified
considering his mental health needs.” The council failed to offer a
The court held that the description of the accommodation put
forward was not mere preference, but part of the individual
applicant’s assessed community care needs, and therefore ordered
that the council provide the accommodation within three
Not infrequently, social services departments resist requests to
provide housing, on the basis that (unlike housing departments)
they don’t have any housing stock. This is misguided since social
services can procure housing, by, for instance, assisting a
disabled person to gain a housing association or privately rented
flat Ð through nomination or by guaranteeing the deposit or
In most cases little else will be required, since housing benefit
will then be available.
What is of interest is how much further this trend will progress.
The Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000, for instance, empowers
social services to provide any service for a carer that will help
him or her “provide care for the person cared for.”
Not infrequently this might involve helping
the carer move to live closer to the person in need of care.
There seems to be no legal reason why the provision of suitable
housing should not therefore be such a service.