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court ref no: CO/1670/97 ...
court ref no: CO/1670/97

A mother-of-two has failed in a test case fight to win what she says is a council home 'suitable' for her family's needs.

In the first case of its kind, Debbie Baxter claimed South Holland DC was obliged to take account of the educational needs of her eldest

son, Matthew, aged 11, when deciding what is and is not an acceptable place for them to live.

Her counsel, John Howell QC, told London's high court the council had

offered the family a two-bedroom home in Donnington, Lincolnshire, 20 miles away from the school where Matthew is doing well.

The move from the family's current temporary accommodation in Pinchbeck, near Spalding, would inevitably mean Matthew changing schools, causing serious dislocation to his education, said Mr Howell.

Describing the offer of accommodation in Donnington as 'unreasonable', he claimed the council had yet to abide by its Housing Act duty to make an offer of a 'suitable' home for Ms Baxter, Matthew and her other son, Jake, aged six.

But deputy high court Judge Malcolm Spence QC yesterday rejected the mother's judicial review challenge, saying she had not alerted the council to anything exceptional about her son's case which would have justified more detailed inquiry.

The judge's decision means the family is now in danger of being evicted by the council from their temporary home in Flaxmill Lane. The council has said it will give 'serious consideration' to taking repossession action.

The court heard the family had lived at Southgate, Pinchbeck, until December 1996 when the landlord died and they were given notice to quit.

The council provided a temporary home in Flaxmill Lane but, on March 13 last year, wrote with the offer of the permanent address in Donnington.

The letter warned Mrs Baxter she would not receive another offer and, if she refused to accept, she would be removed from the housing waiting list and 'serious consideration' would be given to evicting the family from their temporary home.

Ms Baxter asked the council to reconsider because of the 40-mile-a-day round trip it would require to and from Matthew's school.

But Mr Howell said the council wrote back saying it had 'discharged its duty' towards her under the Housing Act by making one suitable offer of accommodation.

The letter went on: 'The matter of children's education is not an issue the council has regard to unless children are commencing studies toward their GCSEs.'

It was not possible to meet everybody's expectations and the council said it 'could not have regard' to children's preferences or impact on social life when considering a homelessness application.

Judge Spence rejected claims those statements amounted to the council operating an unlawful 'blanket' policy.

Richard Drabble QC, for the council, had told the judge: 'It is for the council, not for the court, to decide whether or not particular accommodation is to be regarded as suitable.

'It cannot possibly be said that the council acted perversely in adopting the general approach it did.'

A spokesman for Ms Baxter said later: 'This is the first case on how local authorities have to treat the educational requirements of children when deciding whether an offer of accommodation is suitable.'

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