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Ramifications of the Hotak Judgment

If you’re a citizen of the United Kingdom and homeless, you may qualify for housing assistance from the state under certain conditions.

These conditions have been reviewed and scrutinized over the years, one occasion being the monumental results from the Hotak Judgment. The Hotak Judgment includes three cases (Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark, and Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) and was instrumental in setting a precedent for housing law in the UK. Ultimately, the decisions from these cases set case law determining the specific circumstances that define who is vulnerable and under what circumstances a “vulnerable person” is eligible for housing assistance from the state.

Where there is much need, there is a great responsibility for the government of the United Kingdom to ensure that aid is provided to those who need it most. The question is, how do you determine who is most vulnerable and what situations necessitate assistance from the state? The effects of the Hotak Judgment took progressive steps towards providing aid to more citizens who qualify, loosening the precedent and setting the new standard of vulnerability, which now assesses whether homeless individuals are ‘more vulnerable than an ordinary person’.

Below are short summaries of each of the cases that comprise the Hotak Judgment:

Hotak v London Borough of Southwark:

Sifatullah Hotak, a refugee from Afghanistan, lives with his brother Ezatullah (who doesn’t have the same long-term status to remain in the UK as Sifatullah). Sifatullah has learning difficulties (including one IQ score of 47), self-harming tendencies, and symptoms of both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sifatullah receives help from his brother for daily routine needs like helping with personal hygiene, scheduling and keeping medical appointments, nutrition, claiming eligible benefits, and finding a place to live.

When the brothers became homeless, Ezatullah (who was ineligible based on his status) applied on the behalf of Sifatullah and they ended up receiving some temporary arrangements. They were eventually rejected because, although Sifatullah was homeless and eligible to receive aid, he wasn’t considered an individual in priority need due to the assistance he received from his brother, Ezatullah.

Ultimately, they would not be provided with long-term housing assistance: “Even though we acknowledge that he has learning disabilities and difficulties, we are satisfied that Ezatullah [Hotak] would assist him if street homeless and his circumstances do not confer priority need …”

Kanu v London Borough of Southwark:

Patrick Kanu deals with multiple physical hindrances, as well as psychological issues including suicidal thoughts. He lives with his wife (who helps him with medication) and son. Ultimately, his appeals for housing after his home was seized would be rejected, as would his requests for review of the decision.

Although there were many factors in the decision, the decision was based largely upon the fact that there were other adults in the household who could help, as well as the fact that Mr. Kanu could find employment and improve his situation. Bernadette Emmanuel (Reviews Officer at Southwark) concluded some of the following (summarized from her 14-page response):

Because Mr. Kanu’s wife and son both had the ability to provide for the household Mr. Kanu wouldn’t be more at risk “than another ordinary street homeless person…” and that there is no need to give aid to a household that has “adults in reasonable physical health.” Additionally, Mr. Kanu’s ability to keep a job and live in the situation he had been in, as well as the fact that he was “actively seeking employment” helped determine that he could provide “for himself if street homeless” in the estimation of the Reviews Officer.

Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council:

Craig Johnson has had trouble with the law and drugs for many years, having been convicted of 78 offences and processed in and out of the penitentiary system multiple times. In April 2010, Mr. Johnson applied for assistance from the state as “a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides, or might reasonably be expected to reside” (189)(1)(c). Applying again in October 2011, he cited vulnerability “because (i) he had become addicted to heroin while in prison, (ii) he had “lower back trouble” and “can’t climb up stairs”, (iii) he suffered from sleeping problems, depression and paranoia, and (iv) he suffered from asthma.” After being rejected by Solihull, he sought review which was also rejected by Gemma Thompson from Solihull and the Department of Housing Strategy, Policy and Spatial Planning Services Department.

She concluded he wouldn’t “be less able to fend for [himself] than an ordinary homeless person” because “she was ‘not satisfied that [Mr. Johnson is] suffering from depression or had suffered from depression’.”Next, due to research from Homeless Link that illustrates mental health issues and homelessness as both a cause and result of homelessness, Ms. Thompson believed that having depression doesn’t automatically determine vulnerability.

Finally, she discussed the fact that Mr. Johnson had spent time in and out of prison since he was a teenager, but she didn’t agree that he’d been ‘institutionalised’ because he’d been ‘out of prison for two years and managed [his] affairs’, and she also didn’t believe he would incur ‘injury or detriment’ as a homeless person. Ultimately, she believed that his circumstances didn’t qualify him as vulnerable and her estimation ‘that there is nothing that differentiates you from other homeless people’.

All in all, the Hotak Judgment, in the eyes of the Supreme Court “overturned the test that has been used by local authorities for 16 years to decide whether a homeless person is ‘vulnerable’ and so in priority need of accommodation.” This previous test that was overturned is from the original Pereira (1998) case: “Previously, under guidance given by the Court of Appeal in the case of Pereira, applicants had to show that they were more vulnerable than an ‘ordinary homeless person’. Statistics showed that such a person was likely to suffer from very poor mental and/or physical health. So the test became ‘more vulnerable than the vulnerable’.”

Matt Hutchings from Cornerstone Barristers (represented Shelter and Crisis) continued elaborating on the final decisions from the Hotak Judgment, saying: “The Supreme Court decided that this was wrong, and the correct test was ‘more vulnerable than an ordinary person’. In so doing, they have reinstated the original intention of Parliament.”

For context, cases as monumental as these only come along every ten years or so. The last test (Pereira) for precedent had become outdated and the decisions from the appeals in the Hotak Judgment were beneficial, overturning the Pereira Test: the laws softened, allowing for more individuals who qualify to receive housing assistance. Councils now compare individuals struggling with homelessness with “an ordinary person” which determines whether homeless individuals can adequately be expected to provide for themselves or whether government aid is needed.

Each case is handled individually with comparisons to precedent and an “ordinary person”. These cases are considered by many individuals, including medical advisors from companies like NowMedical (Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) who evaluate the individual’s state of wellbeing. Ultimately, the results from the Hotak Judgment have improved the likelihood of receiving government aid for many individuals by more effectively determining how to provide support to those who most need it.

(Entire article consulted, summarized, and quoted parts of the Supreme Court’s summary of the cases involved with the Hotak Judgment which was cited in footnote 1)

Read the Hotak Judgment in full here.

1- Hotak and others (Apellants) v London Borough of Southwark and another (Respondent), Https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2013-0234.html (May 13, 2015).

2- Supreme court overturns key test on homeless people and vulnerability. (2015, May 13). Retrieved from https://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/housing-law/397-housing-news/25108-supreme-court-overturns-key-test-on-homeless-people-and-vulnerability

3- Supreme court overturns key test on homeless people and vulnerability. (2015, May 13). Retrieved from https://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/housing-law/397-housing-news/25108-supreme-court-overturns-key-test-on-homeless-people-and-vulnerability

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