Charities have welcomed a ‘landmark’ ruling by the Supreme Court, which will make it easier for homeless people to get priority housing.
The Supreme Court ruled on a long-running legal challenge to the way councils decide who is ‘vulnerable’ enough for housing support.
Prior to today’s judgement, local authorities could prioritise housing support based upon how vulnerable a homeless person is compared to other homeless people.
Councils were able to grade a homeless persons “vulnerability” by comparing their mental and physical health to that of other homeless people, who are more likely to suffer mental issues, addictions and other health problems than non-homeless people.
As a result of the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court, single homeless people will no longer have to prove they are more vulnerable than other homeless people.
Councils must now assess homeless people by comparing their health and well-being with that of a typical person who is not homeless.
Responding to the judgement, Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of homeless charity Crisis, said:
“This ruling represents a major step in tackling the injustice faced by so many single homeless people in England today.
“During our intervention in this case, the Court heard evidence of just how horrific a homeless person’s life has to be before they qualify for council help.
“The average age of death for a homeless person is just 47; they are over nine times more likely to commit suicide and 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence. It’s a scandal that someone facing this kind of life can be told they’re not vulnerable enough for help.
“The reality is that anyone sleeping on the streets is vulnerable, and we applaud today’s ruling for making it easier for people to get help. The Court is also clear that while councils are often under huge financial strain, this must not be used as an excuse for avoiding their legal duties.
“Despite this ruling, we still have a long way to go. The legal entitlements for single homeless people remain inadequate and many will still be turned away from help – cold, desperate and forgotten by wider society.
“That’s why we will continue to push for a change in the law so that all homeless people can get the help they need. At the same time, central Government must ensure councils have the funding they need to support people out of homelessness for good.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “At the mercy of an almost impossible test, thousands of vulnerable homeless people have been forced to sleep rough or pushed into dangerous situations.
“Today’s landmark ruling should make this a thing of the past, and mean the law rightly acts to protect those who need it most.
“Far too often at Shelter we hear from homeless people in utterly desperate situations, like someone fleeing domestic violence or coping with a severe mental health problem, who’ve been wrongly refused help by their local council and left to fend for themselves on the streets.
“Even in the face of council budget cuts and an affordable housing drought, we must ensure vulnerable homeless people get the help they are entitled to.”
A government spokesperson said: “This Government has increased spending to prevent homelessness, making over £500m available to help the most vulnerable in society and put strong protections in place to guard people against the threat of homelessness.
“We note the judgement handed down today by the Supreme Court, and are sure that local authorities will carry out their duties in an efficient and fair way in accordance with its terms.
“The recent Ministerial Working Group Report set out our commitment to improve services for homeless people with complex needs by making sure that all agencies work in a joined up way to ensure that we really get to grips with the wide range of difficult issues, including helping vulnerable people, and deal with the root causes of homelessness, rather than just the symptoms.”