European Court of Human Rights backs charities’ right to restrict services

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has confirmed that the restriction of services by charities that offer targeted provision to minority groups is protected in law.

The ruling has been made in a case brought by a parent seeking social housing for her family in Hackney from Orthodox Jewish housing charity Agudus Israel Housing Association.

The parent who was living in temporary accommodation with her children and is not a member of the Orthodox Jewish community had sought to apply for housing provided by the charity.

But as the housing is only awarded to members of the Orthodox Jewish community, through an arrangement Agudus has with the London Borough of Hackney, her application was not forwarded to the charity by the council.

The parent took legal action in the UK courts against the arrangement between the charity and council to restrict housing provision had previously. But this was dismissed due to distinct difficulties facing Orthodox Jewish communities accessing housing, including large family sizes and antisemitism.

This decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court and has now also been backed by the EHCR, after the parent had claimed she had been discriminated against.

The EHCR in its decision said that Article 14, relating to the prohibition of discrimination, had not been contravened as there was a “pressing need” through the charity and council’s arrangement to support the Orthodox Jewish community “owing to the significant hardship they faced in accessing housing in the private rental sector”.

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It added that the arrangement between the charity and council had a “miniscule impact…on the overall housing stock available in the local area”.

“In view of these considerations, the Court saw no reason to substitute its own assessment for that of the domestic courts’ and held that the State’s margin of appreciation had not been exceeded in this case. Accordingly, the application was rejected as manifestly ill-founded,” added the ECHR.

Agudas Israel Housing Association has welcomed the ruling confirming that its targeted support is protected in law.

“For 40 years, we have been addressing the specific needs of the Orthodox Jewish community in the UK, currently providing more than 900 families with suitable and affordable housing,” said the charity.

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