No damages award after breach of duty

A House of Lords ruling protecting councils from having to pay damages if they breach their statutory housing duties could affect other local authority services, according to the solicitor who won the case.

London Borough of Camden senior housing solicitor Scott Dorling, who masterminded the council's appeal, said that although last month's ruling only concerned housing, there was scope in the judgment for all welfare services offered by councils to be affected by it.

He said the ruling had the potential to save millions of pounds for councils embroiled in expensive legal battles over breach of duty.

Camden's long-running case concerned a former prisoner who said he was entitled to damages for breach of statutory duty after the council refused to house him because of his behaviour in one of its hostels.

However, in a unanimous decision, five Law Lords said an individual whose rights had been breached had the option of taking out a judicial review and ruled that there was no scope in housing legislation for monetary compensation.

"The court was looking at it quite pragmatically, because ultimately the people who have to pay are the council taxpayers," said Dorling, who leads a legal team of 14 at Camden.

He added that the ruling was not draconian because councils still had liability under contractual law to ensure the housing offered was of an adequate standard.

The council instructed 2 Field Court barristers Ashley Underwood, Bryan McGuire and Kelvin Rutledge.