Sunday, 01 March 2015

Beware this tall tale

Authorities need to tread carefully when it comes to tenants’ health issues, says Debra Wilson, partner at Anthony Gold

A recent case involving a Westminster Council tenant who refused an offer of a flat because of a fear of heights should be a warning signal for how local authorities treat medical evidence in making housing decisions.

In Fadi El-Dinnaoui v Westminster Council, Mr El-Dinnaoui and his wife Hayat were first offered a flat on the 16th floor - but refused it because of Mrs El-Dinnaoui’s fear of heights.

When she went to view the property, Mrs El-Dinnaoui had a panic attack. Despite this, the council decided the property was suitable for the couple and, when they turned down the flat, argued the refusal of the 16th floor property brought its duty to house them to an end.

Dismissing medical evidence

The council’s position was that Mrs El-Dinnaoui’s fears were not serious, and it wasn’t inclined to believe her account. However, medical evidence was obtained to the effect that she had vertigo which caused panic attacks, dizziness and disorientation. The council’s review officer ignored this evidence, however, and concluded that ‘with time’ Mrs El-Dinnaoui would have settled in, because she was already living on the ninth floor of a block of flats.

When the case was heard in the county court, the judge said it ‘beggars belief’ that Mrs El-Dinnaoui was offered a flat on an even higher floor than the one she was living on, when she asked for a move because of her fears. Nevertheless, Judge Bailey considered that it was for the council to determine what enquiries were necessary, so the appeal at county court level failed. It was also brought up in the lower courts that Mrs El-Dinnaoui hadn’t been to see her GP because of any previous attacks of vertigo.

Decision overruled

However, this was overturned in the Court of Appeal on 20 March. The judge said that the council was not entitled to disregard medical opinions about the severity of the symptoms, alongside the distinctions made in relation to why Mrs El-Dinnaoui has been able to sustain living in the flat which is on the ninth floor.

There were differences between the layout of the two flats, with the one on the ninth floor having restricted views obscured by balconies, whereas the flat on the 16th floor had window views down to street level. The Court of Appeal considered that the council was wrong in dismissing the evidence without opposing medical evidence.

This case raises the question as to the extent to which local authority review officers will need to obtain medical evidence to counter medical opinion provided to them. The safest position is to obtain it. There is otherwise no means of refuting an expert’s opinion.

Debra Wilson acted for the appellant

Readers' comments (4)

  • Elaine Pellow

    A 'tall tale' is what we call a lie or something not very believable,. This tale is neither but headline makes you think some one has been exposed as a liar, where infact its a reminder for housing departments not to disregard medical opinions.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Janine Jarvis

    I think you'll find it's a pun about high (tall) buildings ...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The last paragraph seems to imply that LA's will attempt to obtain medical evidence that counters medical evidence already provided and therefore against the wishes of the person concerned. This seems unethical. If the LA is presented with authentic medical evidence from a GP then that should be beleived.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • the reason that the council use this excuse to
    you as a prospective tenant,is that you can pay any
    doctor for a letter to say what ever you want which
    is not true, so its time that this was removed as a
    reason to dissmiss your claim for accomadation and
    this nation wide

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

sign in register

Newsletter Sign-up



  • Beware unlawful donations

    21 January 2015

    Social landlords should review donations from their subsidiaries, says James Went

  • Beware the rise of the robots


    Inside Housing’s anonymous columnist warns landlords of the worrying impact of technology on customer relations

  • Landlords beware

    18 September 2014

    If landlords have stopped worrying about the looming FRS 102 accountancy changes, it might be time to dust off the nightmares.


  • Brain food

    11 November 2014

    Has meditation got a place in social housing? Dawn Foster finds out

  • Dragons' Den for retrofit technology

    4 September 2014

    Copying the popular BBC format, Accord Group set up a Dragons’ Den of its own to find the best green technologies to test in a £3m retrofit project. Simon Brandon finds out why

  • Job interviews in housing: outside the box

    20 August 2014

    Some social landlords believe a traditional interview is not the way to find the best candidate for the job. Simon Brandon reports on how Bromford Group is using role-playing games to get to know prospective employees

  • Need for sustainable drainage

    13 May 2014

    This year’s floods underlined the need to build sustainable drainage systems and if they mimic the natural process of water absorption and dispersion then so much the better, says John Beresford

  • Mind over matter


    A Merseyside landlord is training its staff to become mental health first aiders to help them support both colleagues and tenants, as Helen Clifton reports

IH Subscription