LAW REPORT v 9 August 1995 : Homeless person cannot claim damages

Regina v Northavon District Council, ex parte Palmer; Court of Appeal (Sir Thomas Bingham, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Auld and Lord Justice Ward) 13 July 1995

A homeless person's right to damages for the inconvenience and suffering caused by a local authority's failure to inquire into her application for accommodation and to provide housing did not arise until the local authority had concluded its public law decision-making function and had accepted its duty to provide accommodation for her.

The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the applicant, Dorothy Palmer, from the dismissal by Mr Roger Toulson QC, sitting as a deputy Queen's Bench judge, of her application for judicial review of decisions of the council.

In January 1992 the applicant and her family were squatting in a house and she applied to the council for accommodation as a homeless person under the Housing Act 1985. However the council treated the application as one for council housing. In the autumn of 1992 the family were evicted and moved to a dilapidated caravan on an unauthorised site. The applicant again applied to the council who in May 1993 eventually accepted that the applicant was threatened with homelessness, was in priority need and secured accommodation for her.

The applicant applied for judicial review to challenge the council's earlier failures to treat her case as one requiring consideration as a homeless person. She sought declarations that the council had acted in breach of its statutory duty in failing to process her application in January 1992 and claimed damages for the inconvenience and suffering caused by the council's failure to inquire into her case and house her between January 1992 and May 1993.

Stephen Cottle (Bobbetts Mackan, Bristol) for the applicant; Timothy Straker (Council Solicitor) for the council.

Sir Thomas Bingham MR said that section 31(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 provided that on an application for judicial review the court might award damages to the applicant if a claim for damages in an action by writ could have been made at the time of the judicial review application.

The breaches of duty by the council relied on by the applicant included its failure to recognise her as an applicant for accommodation, its failure to inquire whether she was homeless and its failure to secure accommodation pending a decision.

The question therefore arose: was the court satisfied that if the applicant's claim had been made in an action begun by the applicant at the time of making her application for judicial review she would have been awarded damages? The council contended that the breaches complained of fell within the field of public law, giving rise to no private rights and thus no breach for which damages would lie.

Cocks v Thanet District Council [1983] 2 AC 286 marked the boundary between public law and private law in this field. From Lord Bridge's speech at page 292C it seemed clear that a number of matters relied on by the applicant fell on the public law side of the boundary as part of the council's decision- making function. Those included the failure to recognise her as an applicant for housing as homeless person, the failure to believe and inquire and to be satisfied about her homelessness.

The mode of challenge of the conduct of local authorities when performing those functions must be that provided for the supervision of public law functions. The applicant contended a breach of a duty on the private law side: the duty to house. But that did not help because a decision must be reached by the housing authority before the duty to house could arise and such decision was not reached until May 1993.

Although the council, properly directing itself, must have accepted the duty to make inquiries, the condition precedent to the creation of the statutory duty was not satisfied until May 1993 even if it should have been satisfied in January 1992.

The applicant could not overcome the difficulty, which was one both of substance and procedure, that she could not recover damages save for breach of a private law duty, that she could not establish a private law duty until the council's public law decision- making function had been concluded and that was a function which only it could perform.

Lord Justice Auld and Lord Justice Ward agreed.

Ying Hui Tan, Barrister

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture