Single mother moved 127 miles away by council loses appeal fight

The Court of Appeal dismissed Katie Leigh Webb-Harnden’s claim that Waltham Forest Council could have housed her in London or nearby

A homeless Walthamstow mother who was moved 127 miles away to the West Midlands by Waltham Forest Council has had her case against the move dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Single mother-of-three Katie Leigh Webb-Harnden had two days left of an eviction order when she accepted an offer by the council to be housed in a private rented Walsall accommodation in September 2021.

At the Court of Appeal, her legal team had argued the council failed to consider the discrimination of moving Katie-Leigh’s family “very, very, very many miles away” from her home and support network.

But in a ruling on Tuesday (22nd August) the Court of Appeal dismissed Webb-Harnden’s case, and described Waltham Forest Council’s offer of the Walsall accommodation as “reasonable and suitable”. In his concluding judgement, Lord Justice Lewis added that the council’s sole offer of housing a 127 mile drive away was “lawful and correct”.

Katie Leigh’s representatives had argued the council did not fulfill its due regard in eliminating discrimination while finding appropriate rented accommodation for her that was close to her home and support network in London. 

Her legal team submitted that the council had used the fact that Katie Leigh was subject to a benefits cap as a means to determine what accommodation was suitable. The benefits cap, her representatives said, disproportionately affects women, and it was argued that the council had failed to establish that the reviewing officer had eliminated discrimination and advanced equality of opportunity when offering Katie Leigh accommodation.

Her representatives also argued that the council could have either provided short term temporary accommodation rather than a fixed term tenancy in the private sector or that they could have considered making cash payments to top up Katie Leigh’s finances. 

In his concluding judgement Lord Justice Lewis said he was “satisfied that, in substance, the reviewing officer did assess the possibility of providing accommodation in or closer to London, and considered the adverse consequences of offering the appellant [Katie Leigh] accommodation in Walsall.”

He added: “The accommodation offered in Walsall was affordable for the appellant. There was no temporary accommodation available for the respondent to allocate to the appellant in London or the neighbouring regions and, in any event, the appellant would be unlikely to be able to afford it and so it would not be suitable for the appellant.”

Earlier this year, in March, appeal judges told Waltham Forest Council it was wrong to only offer to house mother-of-three Nadia Zaman – a lifelong borough resident – a 150 mile drive away in Stoke-on-Trent.

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And in December 2021, mother-of-three Izebela Kickoseka – who the council temporarily housed in Bexley – found herself homeless after refusing a two-year tenancy in Derby.

Cllr Ahsan Khan, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, said: “We are pleased that the judge has ruled the council acted lawfully in offering Ms. Webb-Harnden an out of borough property in line with our accommodation acquisitions policy. 

“The reality is that we want to keep local people close to their friends, families and support networks and we work hard to achieve this wherever it is possible. Demand for housing across London, including Waltham Forest, far outstrips supply. Housing options for households on low incomes are extremely limited and we can only place people into properties where they can afford to pay the rent. 

“Like all councils we must operate within the law laid down by central Government. We have lobbied for a review of this law to make it easier for us to help people at risk of homelessness, but so far have had no success.

“The key to solving the housing crisis in London is to build more genuinely affordable homes. We have committed to building 1,000 new homes for social rent over the coming years. Waltham Forest already has one of the best records of delivering new affordable homes in London, having overseen the creation of 1,500 new-build homes for housing waiting list tenants between 2012 and 2021.

“We understand it is a very difficult time for people at risk of losing their home. We always work hard to find the most appropriate ways that we can support them.”

The Hackney Community Law Centre, who represented Katie-Leigh, said: “We are disappointed with the result in Court but wish to thank our client for her perseverance in pursuing the case to the Court of Appeal. She and her family have had to endure a tremendous amount of upheaval over the past two years due to their move from London to the West Midlands, without any support or connections in the area. We know this has had a huge impact on her and her children.

“Sadly we will continue to see distant private sector accommodation used to house homeless families. In practice it is often single parent households, and therefore single mothers, that experience the worst of this. Our hope remains that local authorities will improve on their efforts to procure more local and more suitable housing to meet the needs of the homeless. 

Our client in this case is one of very many similar cases we are dealing with where families with long standing ties to East London have been uprooted and moved far from home. We are keen to continue to act in individual cases and would also highlight that legal aid still exists for this important area of work.”

Note: A previous version of this article repeatedly stated that Walsall was 170 miles away from Walthamstow. This has been corrected to 127 miles (driving distance).

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