Homeless torture and trauma victims should have better access to accommodation from social services after a court ruling today, say campaigners.
The Court of Appeal decided that local authorities had a statutory duty to provide accommodation to those in need of “care and attention” due to mental health problems or traumatic experiences.
Campaigners said the ruling against Westminster Council had filled a gap in previous case law under the National Assistance Act 1948, which focused almost exclusively on people with physical rather than mental health problems.
“We are delighted that the court has rectified the blindness of previous case law by clarifying that local authorities’ duty to provide community care support can extend to those with care needs arising from trauma experiences,” said Dr Nimisha Patel, lead clinical psychologist at Freedom from Torture, an organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of torture survivors.
The court said the council had a duty to accommodate a homeless mental health service user, who had claimed asylum on the basis that he was persecuted in his native Iran because he was gay.
According to the court, the duty of local authorities to provide accommodation is triggered when it would not be “reasonably practicable and efficacious” to supply care to individuals with mental health problems in the absence of stable accommodation.
Victoria Pogge von Strandmann, who represented Freedom from Torture in the case, said many people with mental health problems required stable accommodation to receive effective provision. For many who are be homeless, destitute or hopping from one friend’s sofa to another, she said, a home provided by the local authority was necessary.
The ruling also determined that the “care and attention” that qualified people for local authority accommodation need not be provided by the local authority.
“The appellant in this case had weekly meetings with a care co-ordinator, provided by the local authority, was taking part in counselling groups and had a ‘befriender’, who took him on outings and supported him,” Pogge von Strandmann said.
“The counselling groups and befriender were both provided by third sector organisations, but it was ruled that the local authority still had to take these into account when considering the appellant’s eligibility for accommodation.”
Pogge von Strandmann said the change would significantly affect people with depression and those who had suffered trauma, such as asylum seekers.
“Local authorities often take the view that, if you have a mental health problem, you need medication or counselling, both of which are provided by the NHS, so you don’t qualify for local authority accommodation,” she told Community Care.
“But mental health problems often require more than that. This ruling will ensure that some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society receive the accommodation and support that they so desperately need from social services.”
John Bolton, Westminster council’s interim strategic director of adult social care, told Community Care that Westminster believes this was the wrong decision and is currently looking at the merits of appealing to the Supreme Court.
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