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Enfield London Borough Council, Ex-Parte Bernard, Queen's Bench Division, 25 October 2002

6 November 2002
The issues

Human rights – damages – Article 3 – Article 8

The facts

C1 was married to C2. C2 was a severely disabled woman dependent on an electronic wheelchair and who suffered from incontinence and diabetes. C1 was her carer. C1 also had to look after the 6 children that the couple had. Because of financial difficulties the family was forced to move from its adapted and equipped house to a tenancy of an unadapted property. When that tenancy came to an end, they applied to the local authority for housing. This was provided but it was not properly adapted. They moved in on 30th June 2000. On 15th September 2000 the Social Services Department assessed C1’s needs and found that the property was unsuitable. A care plan was produced stating that C1 needed assistance to move to a suitably adapted property. By August 2001, nothing had been done. C1 produced an independent report and corresponded with the local authority but received no response. In February 2002 the local authority told C1 and C2 that they were to be evicted from the property. C1 and C2 applied for permission to apply for Judicial Review and the local authority withdrew its threat of eviction. Judicial Review was granted. The local authority accepted its duty to make arrangements for provision of suitably adapted accommodation under Section 21 (1) (a) National Assistance Act 1948 but provided no explanation as to why it had done nothing to date. The local authority was ordered to provide the Claimants with suitable accommodation within 6 months and the claim for damages was adjourned. The Order was not complied with until C1 and C2 threatened to apply for an Order committing the Director for contempt of Court.

The decision

1. There was no intention to humiliate or debase the Claimants. Although the conditions that C1 was forced to live in were poor, and some might describe as degrading, the Court did not find that the minimum level of severity threshold had been crossed.

2. The failures to re-house amounted to a lack of respect for the Claimant’s private and family life.

3. Had the local authority acted once the problem had been drawn to its attention, it might be no damages would be required to afford just satisfaction but this was not the case here.

4. Generally, it was difficult to see why awards should not be comparable to award under the law of tort. However, here there was no comparable tort and regard would be had to the awards given by the Local Government Ombudsman. The awards set should not be minimal because that would diminish the underlying policy of the 1998 Act. The appropriate award was £10,000 to be divided £8,000 to the disabled wife and £2,000 to the husband/carer.

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