Women, Housing, and the Public Sector Equality Duty

Back To Latest News

Background

When presented with an application for a reciprocal transfer for social housing, where the applicant’s daughter had been sexually abused by a neighbour, Westminster Council rejected the transfer request, relying on the terms of its Housing Allocation Scheme as justification for the decision. The Scheme distinguished between tenants depending on where they lived, and the Claimant’s address meant that she had to wait 10 years to be re-housed. The Scheme dated back to the 1990’s and was largely unchanged since its creation, despite developments in statute (the public sector equality duty – PSED) and statutory guidance.

Analysis

With 9/10 referrals for housing transfers being made by or on behalf of women and 63% of those fleeing some form of violence, there is significant evidence that those who need to move to escape violence are more likely to be women. Westminster’s Scheme is therefore indirectly discriminatory, adversely affecting a higher proportion of women than men. It also effectively excluded groups of people based on where they lived from the fast-track housing transfer route.

The Claimant successfully argued that the Scheme was unlawful, and that Westminster was in breach of the PSED, which requires public authorities to not only consider the impact of their decisions on those with a protected characteristic, but also to keep under review how they are promoting equality in their decision making and policies.

Conclusion

The Court has ordered Westminster to, by 30th April 2024, re-consider the Claimant’s application as though she were residing in the area entitled to the fast-track transfer route. From a legal perspective, this is a salutary lesson for public bodies to keep their policies under review and at the very least to ensure compliance with the PSED. On a human level, this is a sad reminder that victims are at the mercy of a system that often fails them.

In Wales, the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 requires certain public bodies to take proactive steps to remove and/or minimise factors which increase and exacerbate the disproportionate effect on women and girls of domestic abuse and sexual violence. This preventative approach recognises the mountain still to climb in eradicating gender-based violence.

To find out more about our public law and regulatory services please get in touch with the team.


View the case here