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Court rules on immigrant social housing request

The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that a local authority was justified in not treating with priority a social housing request by an immigrant, whose son was conditionally allowed to stay in the UK.

The applicant in the case, Husenatu Bah, is a Sierra Leonean national who lives in London. Having unsuccessfully claimed asylum in the United Kingdom following her arrival there in 2000, she was granted indefinite leave in 2005 to remain in the UK. Her son, born in 1994, joined her in London in 2007. He was allowed to enter and remain in the UK on the condition that he did not have recourse to public funds.

Shortly after her son arrived, Ms Bah was asked to leave the room she was renting, as her landlord was unwilling to accommodate her son. Ms Bah applied to the London Borough of Southwark for priority treatment in obtaining social housing. Individuals who become unintentionally homeless and have minor children are normally treated with priority by the local authority when deciding on the provision of social housing. However, because Ms Bah’s son had only been granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom on the condition that he did not have recourse to public funds, he could not be taken into account in assessing whether she had a priority need for housing assistance.

The Court recalled that there is no right under Article 8 of the Convention to be provided with social housing. However, where a State decides to provide such a benefit, it must do so in a way that is not discriminatory. Ms Bah’s son had been allowed to enter and remain in the UK on the explicit condition that he would not use public funds. It had therefore been because of his conditional immigration status, and not because he was a Sierra Leone national, that his mother had been denied priority treatment under the housing legislation. Given the shortage of social housing, it was legitimate for the national authorities to put in place criteria for its allocation, as long as the criteria were not arbitrary or discriminatory.



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