Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: CA 8 Jul 2015

The claimant sought housing under the homelessness provisions. She had refused a final offer accommodation n the grounds that it brought back memories of her prison cell in Iran, and which would exacerbate the post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks and other conditions from which she suffered. The Council’s rejection of these grounds were upheld by the County Court.
Held: Her appeal was rejected (Elias LJ dissenting). The reviewing officer had properly considered the relevant issues and reached a valid decision.
Moore-Bick LJ summarised what he understood to be the critical difference between the other judgments, and commented: ‘The point on which my Lords are divided is whether Mr Stack wrongly dismissed as objectively unreasonable Ms Poshteh’s assertion that the round window in the living room reminded her of her prison cell and as a result ignored her evidence of experiencing a panic attack when she visited the property. If that were the case, I should agree with Elias LJ that he misdirected himself. Ms Poshteh’s reaction to the round window, as evidenced by her panic attack, was an objective fact, even if it was irrational, and was a matter to be taken into account. However, reading para 45 as a whole in the context of the preceding paragraphs, I am not persuaded that Mr Stack did ignore Ms Poshteh’s reaction when reaching his conclusion . . What Mr Stack actually said was that he did not accept as objectively reasonable her assertion that the size or design of the windows in the living room were reminiscent of a prison cell or that the windows or layout of the room recreated the conditions of confinement or incarceration that were likely to have a significant impact on her mental health. The first of those observations cannot in my view be criticised, since the size and design of the windows were not on any objective view reminiscent of a prison cell. Whether the windows or layout of the room recreated conditions of confinement or incarceration that were likely to have a significant impact on Ms Poshteh’s mental health, on the other hand, was a matter of judgment which had to be determined by reference not only to the nature of the inciting stressor or her perception of the property but to the evidence as a whole . . ‘
Elias LJ dissented, focussing on the reasoning at the ‘key passage’ of the letter: ‘The premise is that unless the relevant inciting stressor was one which, objectively considered, ‘was reminiscent of a prison cell or . . recreated the conditions of confinement or incarceration’, which this property did not, the panic attacks could effectively be ignored or at least treated as sufficiently trivial as not to be likely to affect her mental health.’
He thought this approach was flawed: ‘If as a matter of fact the appellant would be likely to suffer panic or anxiety of such a nature and degree as to create a significant risk of damaging her mental health, it matters not whether it is an explicable or rational reaction. It would still be reasonable for the appellant to refuse the property, as in the El-Dinnaoui case. Alternatively, the officer might possibly have reasoned that absent an objectively explicable inciting stressor, any panic or anxiety induced by the premises would be minimal and unlikely to have an effect on the appellant’s mental health. If so, the analysis is still in my opinion flawed because there was no proper evidence to justify that inference. It is true that the medical evidence was to the effect that small and dark premises, obviously reminiscent of a prison cell, may well trigger the attacks, but that did not discount the possibility that the attacks may occur in other circumstances. In my judgment there was no basis for inferring simply from the nature of the inciting stressor that the attacks could not be significant enough to damage her mental health.’


Moore-Bick, Elias, McCombe LJJ


[2015] EWCA Civ 711, [2015] HLR 36, [2015] CN 1222




Housing Act 1996


England and Wales


CitedEl-Dinnaoui v Westminster City Council CA 20-Mar-2013
The appellant and his family sought rehousing. The appellant’s wife had a medically-confirmed history of anxiety due to fear of heights. They were offered a flat on the 16th floor. She became distressed on leaving after the inspection and collapsed . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromPoshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea SC 10-May-2017
The appellant, applying for housing as a homeless person, had rejected the final property offered on the basis that its resemblance to the conditions of incarceration in Iran, from which she had fled, would continue and indeed the mental . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 03 August 2022; Ref: scu.549775