European court backs Jewish housing charity in discrimination case

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European court backs Jewish housing charity in discrimination case

Jewish housing provider in London says the ruling sets a 'welcome precedent' for other faith groups in meeting accommodation needs

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in favour of an Orthodox Jewish housing charity from London in its long-running dispute with a single non-Jewish mother-of-four who was unable to access its housing.

The woman, known as L.F. and now in her early twenties, was living in the London Borough of Hackney in 2020 when the High Court ordered that she be rehoused into more suitable accommodation.

With two of her four children diagnosed as autistic, she was considered a priority case, placing added responsibility on the local council. At the time, there was social housing stock available in the borough from the Agudas Israel Housing Association, which she became aware of.

However, in line with an agreement, Hackney did not apply to Agudas on her behalf, because in practice such houses were only awarded to members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The housing association was set up to support the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community

She brought judicial review proceedings, arguing that the arrangements between Agudas and Hackney discriminated against her because she was not Jewish.

Her claim was dismissed by the Divisional Court, which cited the difficulties faced by the Orthodox Jewish community in accessing housing; the exponential rise in antisemitism, giving rise to a need to live close together for security purposes; and large family sizes, which led to demand for properties with a reduced risk of eviction from overcrowded accommodation.

It also said that because the Agudas housing stock accounted for only one percent of the available units in the borough, “any discrimination suffered by individuals not falling within its remit was proportionate to the aim of meeting the housing needs of the orthodox Jewish community”.

Stamford Hill in Hackney, where there is a large Orthodox Jewish population

The decision was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and was then taken to the ECHR, which late last week unanimously ruled that the Hackney-Agudas agreement was “objectively and reasonably justified”.

Agudas chief executive Chaya Spitz this week welcomed the ECHR decision, saying it “confirms that making targeted provision to meet the needs of minority groups is protected by the law”.

She added that “for 40 years, [Agudas] has successfully addressed the specific needs of the Orthodox Jewish community in the UK, giving families suitable and affordable housing… We are proud of the essential service that we provide and, through this case, have established an important principle which affects many different communities across the UK”.

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