Monday, 7 June 2021

London council’s allocation policy ruled lawful following challenge over local connection rules

Lewisham Council’s housing allocation policy was challenged by Zaida Mallon Montero, who applied to the council for social housing in July 2019 on the basis that her family was living in overcrowded housing.

At the time the family of five shared one bedroom in a two-bedroom private-rented flat in Lewisham that they were sharing with another couple. 

In November 2019, the council refused the application on the basis that Ms Montero had not lived in the borough for a minimum of five years, which is a requirement set out in Lewisham’s allocation policy.

Councils are allowed to include local connection criteria in their allocation policies. They also must by law ensure that their policy gives a ‘reasonable preference’ to certain people, including those living in overcrowded accommodation.

The claimant’s lawyers argued that it was unlawful for Lewisham Council to disqualify Ms Montero based on its local connection criteria as she fell within the reasonable preference category and disqualifying her would mean that she was given no preference at all.

This argument was rejected, with the judge concluding that “falling into a reasonable preference category is not sufficient to require the disapplication of a residency requirement”.

The judgement said “the shortage of permanent social housing is such” that most applicants eligible for housing under Lewisham Council’s scheme fall within the reasonable preference category.

“If a residence requirement could not lawfully be applied in such cases, there would seem to be relatively little scope for the practical operation of such a requirement,” it said.

The claimant also argued that the council’s policy meant she should only have been excluded from the housing register for six months, rather than until she met the five-year local connection criteria.

This was due to the wording of the policy, which states: “If you do not have a local connection with Lewisham, your application will be disqualified for a period of six months from the date of our decision.”

The judge said he did not accept this argument and said the “clear objective” of the statement was “to treat five years’ residence in Lewisham as the basic benchmark” of qualifying for the housing register.

On Twitter, the Housing Action South London campaign, which Ms Montero is part of, said: “We’re disappointed our legal challenge against unjust residency criteria was unsuccessful. It’s totally unfair that some families living in overcrowded and other bad housing don’t even have the chance to join the housing waiting list. We hope there will be future challenges!”

The group is calling on Lewisham Council, which is currently reviewing its housing allocation policy, to reduce its local residency criteria to two years.

Lewisham Council has been approached for comment.

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