New Judgment: SL v Westminster City Council  UKSC 27
09 Thursday May 2013
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 954
The appellant is a failed asylum-seeker from Iran. Following his discharge from hospital after a suicide attempt he was assessed as needing regular sessions with mental health professionals, counselling, and meetings with a social worker.
The respondent council argued it had no duty to provide him with accommodation under the National Assistance Act 1948, s 21(1)(a) as the appellant was not in need of “care and attention” for the purposes of that Act – his weekly meetings with a social worker only constitute a means of monitoring what care and attention he may require in future. Also, any assistance the appellant may need is, in any event, “otherwise available” because it is available to him regardless of his accommodation arrangements.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, concluding that the Council does not owe a duty to provide the appellant with accommodation. There are three cumulative conditions which must be satisfied before accommodation must be provided under s 21(1)(a) of the 1948 Act: the person must be in need of “care and attention”; the need must arise by reason of age, disability, illness or other circumstances; and the necessary care and attention must not be available otherwise than by the provision of accommodation under s 21. The Council was reasonably entitled to find that the first and third of these conditions were not satisfied in this case.
The Court of Appeal was wrong to read the word “available” in s 21(1)(a) as meaning not merely available in fact but available in a manner that is reasonably practicable. Whether the criterion of “not otherwise available” is satisfied is best left to the judgment of the local authority concerned.