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Property: Possession Proceedings and the Public Sector Equality Duty

In Powell v Dacorum Borough Council [2019] EWCA Civ 23 (24 January 2019) the Court of Appeal has considered the Public Sector Equality Duty (‘PSED’) under S. 149 Equality Act 2010 (‘EqA’) in the context of possession proceedings.

The PSED requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.

The Facts

Dacorum BC claimed possession of Mr Powell’s property on grounds which included his conviction for drug-related offences at his property. No PSED issues were raised during the possession proceedings. A suspended possession order was made, one of the conditions being that Mr Powell comply with the terms of his tenancy agreement. Subsequently, the police carried out a drug-related raid at the property, and the Council obtained a closure order.

After the Council had applied to execute the warrant, a psychiatrist reported that Mr Powell suffered from mental health issues. It was only at that stage, following receipt of the medical letter, that a Council officer carried out a proportionality review, referring specifically to S. 149 EqA. The officer concluded that it was necessary, proportionate and reasonable to seek possession of the property. At the hearing of the suspension application, the court concluded that the PSED did not provide grounds for suspending the warrant. Mr Powell was given permission to appeal on one ground only, relating to the PSED. A circuit judge dismissed his appeal.

The Decision

Mr Powell challenged the conclusion that there was no breach of the PSED and whether, if there were any such breaches, they were capable of remedy and were remedied by the Council’s proportionality review carried out at the warrant stage.

The Court rejected Mr Powell’s contention that the Dacorum officer had misunderstood the PSED. It held that the application of the PSED is context-specific and depended ‘upon the function being exercised and the facts of the case’ [para. 44]. The local authority officer had made appropriate enquiries and had conscientiously considered Mr Powell’s circumstances during the possession proceedings. Even if the Council had been in breach of the PSED, Dacorum had remedied the breach when carrying out a proportionality review at the warrant stage.

Barbara Zeitler / 28th Jan 2019


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