European ruling gives hope to disabled tenants


Disabled social housing tenants should now have greater protection from eviction, following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR found that courts should take the personal circumstances of tenants into account when deciding whether a social landlord has the right to possess a property.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had intervened in the case to argue that social landlords had an obligation to consider whether an eviction was “proportionate”, particularly if the tenant was “vulnerable” because of a mental health condition, a physical impairment, learning difficulties or poor health.

The case arose from the eviction of eight tenants from properties leased from London and Quadrant Housing Trust In 1999. Their attempts to overturn the evictions in the UK courts were unsuccessful.

In appealing to the ECHR, the tenants argued that the eviction would breach their right to respect for their homes under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR ruled that anyone facing such an eviction has the right to have a court or tribunal rule on whether the eviction was “proportionate”.

The court found there had been a violation of the convention and awarded each applicant 2,000 euros in compensation.

John Wadham, the EHRC’s legal group director, said: “This decision does not prevent social landlords from evicting a tenant; what it does mean is that human rights – and the basic human right of respect for one’s home – is considered and balanced in making that decision.”

But he said that, because ECHR decisions are not “directly binding” on UK courts, other tenants and social landlords would have to wait for UK court decisions in similar cases before the full implications of the decision became clear, unless the government changed the law.

Wonta Ansah-Twum, head of disability discrimination and employment for Disability Law Service, said the ruling was “a very positive step forward for disabled people in social housing”.

She said that, although it would not have a “direct effect” on UK law, it would still have a significant impact, because barristers would be drawing it to the attention of the courts.

She said the courts would have to be “very careful from now on” when making a decision on whether to grant an eviction order.

A London and Quadrant spokesman said the decision had helped to establish the “boundaries” in a “very grey” and complex area of the law.

He said: “We will now study the implications of the ruling and use it to inform our services and procedures in the future.”

30 September 2010

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