Edinburgh council loses court appeal over homelessness case

Housing campaigners have welcomed an appeal court ruling against Edinburgh City Council which they say will protect the rights of homeless people seeking accommodation.
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Council chiefs had appealed against an earlier court decision that they had failed in their duty towards a homeless man and his family.

But now Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, sitting with Lord Turnbull and Lady Wise, have upheld that decision.

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Abdelwahab-Kaba Dafaalla applied to the city council for accommodation for himself, his wife and six children, in 2015 and they were given temporary housing.

The council subsequently made two offers of permanent accommodation to Mr Dafaalla, which he refused as they were unsuitable for his family’s needs. He said the offers were not reasonable.

But the council then evicted him and his family from their temporary accommodation on January 16, 2020.

Mr Dafaalla made a new application for temporary accommodation in March 2020, based on his medical condition – he suffered from Type 2 diabetes, functional dyspepsia and osteoarthritis – which he said also made him more vulnerable to Covid. The council refused the application on the basis it did not consider this relevant to his homelessness status.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian ruled against the city council.     Picture: Judiciary of Scotland/PA WireLord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian ruled against the city council.     Picture: Judiciary of Scotland/PA Wire
Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian ruled against the city council. Picture: Judiciary of Scotland/PA Wire
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The first court ruled that the council had failed in its duty to conduct inquiries if a fresh application was made on different terms from the original. The council argued circumstances had not changed, it had already fulfilled its duty and the issue of Covid did not require it to make further inquiries.

The appeal judges rejected the council’s appeal, saying its interpretation of its duty in such circumstances was too narrow.

Shelter Scotland hailed the judgement as good news for the rights of homeless people.

Fiona McPhail, principal solicitor at Shelter Scotland, said: “The court’s decision in this case is a welcome one. Not only is it a positive outcome for Mr Dafaalla, it also provides important clarity for those seeking to defend their rights in the future.

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“Had the council’s extremely narrow interpretation of the law been accepted by the court it would have placed significant restrictions on homeless people seeking assistance from a local authority where they had already sought help in the past.

“Local authorities across the country will not be able to rely on such a reading of the relevant legislation.

“As the court noted in its decision, it would have be a bizarre outcome if laws meant to widen the scope of people who could receive assistance had the opposite effect and narrowed the parameters instead.

“This is good news for Mr Dafalla and good news for the rights of homeless people in Scotland.”

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And Edinburgh law firm Balfour and Manson, which represented Mr Dalfaalla, said the court’s decision reaffirmed the fundamental role of local authorities in the provision of accommodation to homeless people, and provided guidance in relation to the test to be applied in repeat applications.

“The court noted that where a local authority has fulfilled its duty by making an offer of accommodation to an applicant, but where this offer is rejected, the applicant’s personal circumstances will be relevant to whether a subsequent application is validly made.”

A council spokesman said: “The council has accommodated the family in temporary accommodation since March 2020 while the appeal process was ongoing. The council will consider the judgement and any implications before determining its response.”

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