Social housing and religion again: LF v United Kingdom

Readers may possibly recall the judgment in In R (Z & Anor) v Hackney London Borough Council & Anor [2020] UKSC 40, which we noted at the time, here. The Agudas Israel Housing Association Ltd (AIHA), whose properties constitute less than one per cent of social housing in Hackney, makes social housing available primarily for Orthodox Jews: in particular, for Charedis. It had refused to rent a house to Ms Z, a Gentile, on the grounds that it had no property currently available for non-Jewish applicants. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the judgments of the lower courts and dismissed Ms Z’s appeal against the housing policies of Hackney LBC and the AIHA. After losing in the Supreme Court, she appealed to the ECtHR.

In LF v United Kingdom [2022] ECHR (no. 19839/21), she complained of a violation of Article 14 (discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) ECHR. The Court of Appeal had not considered that her case engaged Article 8 of the Convention because it did not entitle someone to be provided with a home and, in any event, she was already housed by the local authority. It was prepared to assume that Article 14 was engaged in conjunction with Article 8, but that, even so, the difference in treatment was objectively and reasonably justified in the circumstances of the case [41].

The Court considered that the difference in treatment flowing from the arrangement between the London Borough of Hackney and Agudas was objectively and reasonably justified [43]. Article 14 did not prohibit a member state from treating groups differently in order to correct “factual inequalities” between them, and the Divisional Court had addressed in great detail the significant hardship faced by the Orthodox Jewish community of poverty affecting employment and education opportunities, prejudice when renting in the private sector on account of their appearance, language and religion, and an exponential increase in anti-Semitic hate crime. They also had larger families and had a pressing need for properties that would reduce the particular and intensified risk of eviction from overcrowded accommodation [44].

The national authorities were in principle better placed than international judges to appreciate what was in the public interest on social or economic grounds, and it was an area in which states parties had a wide margin of appreciation [45]. The domestic courts had carefully considered whether there was a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised by the arrangement between Hackney LBC and the AIHA, and each level of jurisdiction had agreed that it was objectively and reasonably justified [46]. In equally detailed judgments, both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court had agreed that the Divisional Court had made appropriate findings on the basis of the evidence before it and that it had applied the correct proportionality exercise [47].

The application was rejected as manifestly ill‑founded [50].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Social housing and religion again: LF v United Kingdom" in Law & Religion UK, 17 June 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/06/17/social-housing-and-religion-again-lf-v-united-kingdom/

3 thoughts on “Social housing and religion again: LF v United Kingdom

  1. Manifestly ill-founded? The justice or injustice of that blatant put-down depends upon (inter alia) whether the alleged ill-foundedness is alleged to have been manifest before or after the ECtHR’s decision. How wide that court will consider a that a high contracting party’s margin of appreciation be gauged to be, upon which metric (predictably enough) the case turned, is something on which an applicant must gamble sometimes, because the ECtHR does tend to make it all up as it goes along, depending upon whether the applicant and the respondent are goodies or baddies respectively. This time, the UK’s margin of appreciation was ever-so wide.

    If the housing association had specialised in providing accommodation for Anglicans, and Z had been Jewish, or Muslim, I suspect the UK’s “margin of appreciation” might have turned out to be less tumescent during its day in court.

    • It should be noted that the phrase “manifestly ill-founded” shouldn’t be interpreted literally, and isn’t intended to be a “blatant put-down”. There are, in particular, decisions of the former Commission which indicate that an application may be declared manifestly ill-founded even if this required detailed analysis and/or consideration of complex questions of law.

      • I see. Much like “inadmissable” doesn’t literally mean that an application couldn’t be heard, but rather that the single judge doing the screening didn’t cherry pick it for a hearing then. Thank you for putting me right.

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