Currently across England, there is a shortage of social housing with over 1.2 million households on the social housing waiting list. Recent research has found that one in seven people in England are directly affected by the housing crisis.

What do human rights have to do with housing?

The Grenfell Tower disaster brought a renewed focus to the question of a human rights approach to housing. Questions were raised regarding whether there was a failure by the local authority, or others, to protect the rights of residents. You can read more about Grenfell on our blog

Councils that provide housing are public authorities, therefore they always have a duty under the Human Rights Act, even if some service delivery is commissioned out. In 2009, the Court of Appeal decided that when a housing association is allocating and managing social housing, it is performing public functions, meaning that it has duties under the Human Rights Act (HRA).

UK law does not currently include an express right to housing. However, some of the rights in our Human Rights Act are really relevant to housing, for both housing providers and service users.

If a person is homeless and has to sleep on the streets, this will not necessarily constitute inhuman or degrading treatment. However, the courts have found that the Home Office's failure to provide accommodation and support for three asylum seeking men (because there was a one day delay between them arriving in the UK and claiming asylum), meant the men were at risk of being homeless and without adequate food and that this breached their right not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way. You can read our blog on this case here.

This right to a fair trial applies to public body decision-making procedures when there is a significant impact on a person’s civil rights or obligations, such as those in property law, family law and employment law. This right is likely to be particularly relevant in review or appeal proceedings which would determine a tenant's rights. It would mean, for example, a person facing possible eviction should have access to an interpreter if required.

This right does not normally give anyone a right to a home or to any particular form of accommodation, instead it contains a right to respect for a home that a person already has. It can also apply when the accommodation someone is provided with is so unsuitable that the inadequacies of the accommodation would interfere with private and family life.This right also protects the privacy of individuals, meaning that people should be able to live in privacy and be able to live their life in the way that they choose and personal information should be kept private and confidential.

The Human Rights Act protects our right not to be discriminated against in relation to any of the other human rights in the Act. This right fulfils the key principle that everybody has the same human rights and that we should all have equal access to them. This means, for example, a housing officer when dealing with a housing application cannot treat a homosexual couple different to a heterosexual couple in the same situation.

The Human Rights Act protects our right to enjoy possessions (including land and houses) without interference, deprivation or control of those possessions. This right is 'non-absolute' and for there to be an interference there has to be a law that allows it and it has to be in the public interest and the response has to be proportionate.


How we Achieve Social Change Through Human Rights

Changing People's Lives

John and Mary's Story

John is a man with learning disabilities living in the North West of England. He was living in a small single room that functioned as a bedroom, living room and bathroom all in one. His shower wasn’t working, forcing him to use a hand towel and bowl for washing, and the toilet was close to the bed.

Framing the situation using human rights language completely changed the conversation in John’s case, new accommodation was found for John that was far more suited to his needs. He now has a little more space and proper washing facilities, and his quality of life is hugely improved as a result. 

Transforming Organisations and Communities

A Housing Association's Story

As a provider of mental healthcare and accommodation, St Martin of Tours Housing Association supports people with mental health issues and offender backgrounds who need help to maintain their independence or to step down from secure hospital wards, prisons and similar situations.

Following an incident in one of their housing units, where a member of staff was assaulted, they used human rights to review their internal policies and practices on dealing with violent behaviour. They are now recording incidences of physical and/or verbal aggression more closely, assessing people to ensure they are getting the mental health support they need, working more closely with the police and talking about this with residents and neighbours as a positive step to create a safe environment for well-being and recovery.

As a result, violent incidences have been reduced by 50% and evictions are also down.