A landmark judgement concerning councils’ duties to protect vulnerable adults from harm was overturned this week.
Hounslow Council successfully appealed a High Court judgement that they had been negligent in not moving a couple with mild learning disabilities from their council flat into emergency accommodation before they had endured a weekend of horrific abuse at the hands of local youths who had befriended them.
The judgement had led to the couple being awarded £97,000 in damages; however, it was overturned yesterday by the Court of Appeal.
The High Court judge had concluded that despite not having a statutory duty of care in relation to the couple, the council had a duty in common law because:-
- The abuse they suffered was “reasonably foreseeable” because previous abuse had been reported by the youths. In particular, the couple’s social worker had reported the abuse to the council’s housing department, calling for their longstanding application to be rehoused to be considered urgently.
- The relationship between the council and the couple was “sufficiently proximate” to warrant of duty of care, because of the services they received from the council.
- It would be “just, fair and reasonable” to impose such a duty because the council had the power and procedures to move the couple into emergency accommodation.
However, the Court of Appeal found that this did not apply because the council did not “assume” such a duty.
Commenting on the case, Bob Hetherington, a partner in the local government group at Weightmans law firm, said: “This is an important Court of Appeal decision which confirms that a local authority does not ordinarily owe a duty of care to tenants to protect them from violence by a third party.”
A Hounslow Council spokesperson said: “This is an extremely sad case, and we have every sympathy for the claimants, who were subjected to an appalling ordeal. We are also pleased to note that the Court of Appeal praised the social worker involved for her ‘impeccable behaviour’.”