Pieretti v London Borough of Enfield, Court of Appeal (Mummery, Longmore and Wilson LJJ)

David Stephenson acted for Mr Pieretti in his s. 204 Housing Act 1996 appeal against Enfield’s decision to find him intentionally homeless and subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Mr and Mrs P entered into an assured shorthold tenancy for a period of 12 months on 11th March 2006. Things progressed reasonably well for the first year and the tenancy was renewed in March 2007. Thereafter the relationship between the landlord and P deteriorated. P had accused the landlord of not returning housing benefit cheques, harassment and was concerned that she would not return his security deposit. Hence, P withheld rent in March and April 2008 to protect his deposit. The landlord complained that their payments of rent became erratic and eventually took possession of the property on 18th April 2008 under the accelerated procedure and executed a warrant for eviction on 5th June 2008.

On 14th May 2008, P applied to Enfield for housing assistance and in so doing disclosed that he and his wife were both disabled within s. 1 of the DDA. Both had a long history of depression. Enfield made limited enquiries to ascertain whether or not they were vulnerable and in priority need but did not seek any information from their GP to determine disability for the purposes of s.1 DDA.

Enfield found P intentionally homeless on the basis that his withholding rent was a deliberate act not done in good faith (P had received advice in 2007 that withholding rent could put his tenancy at risk) in consequence of which he lost his accommodation.

It was argued on appeal before HHJ Mitchell in the Central London County Court that when P ticked that he was disabled in Enfield’s housing application form, they were fixed with notice that he may well be disabled within the meaning of the DDA and ought to have made sufficient enquiries to ascertain the full nature and extent of P’s disability.

HHJ Mitchell dismissed P’s appeal on the basis that P was not disabled within the meaning of s. 1 of the DDA and/or Enfield was not required to consider the general duty contained in s.49A of the DDA and Paragraph 11.17 of the Code of Practice because P did not raise his disability (depression) as an issue with the council: paragraph 14 of Cramp v Hastings [2005] EWCA Civ 1005 applied.

P appealed to the Court of Appeal on the following grounds:

  • HHJ Mitchell erred in law by failing to hold that the equality objectives contained in s.49A DDA were applicable to the present case. The obligation on public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination required Enfield to make such enquiries so as to ascertain the full nature and extent of any disability that P might have before determining that his act was a deliberate one and not in good faith.
  • HHJ Mitchell’s finding that P was not disabled within the meaning of the act was a conclusion not open to him to reach. It is not the place of the judge on appeal to make such a conclusion in the absence of all the evidence.
  • In reaching his conclusion that P was not disabled within the meaning of the Act HHJ Mitchell erred in law by adopting the wrong approach. He wrongly concluded that P was not disabled because he had requested to speak with the review officer himself and was able to write letters setting out his position.

This appeal involves consideration of an important legal point of principle which will determine when the General Duty contained in s.49A DDA is triggered in respect of an individual and whether s.49A DDA requires a local authority to make more onerous enquiries when it is fixed with actual or imputed notice.

Judgment is eagerly awaited.