European Court on Human Rights upholds some charities’ right to restrict services

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the principle that some charities can restrict their services to certain groups of people without falling foul of equalities law.

A judgment from the court last week rejected an appeal from a homeless single mother who had argued that she and her four children had been discriminated against by a housing association set up to provide homes for the Orthodox Jewish community, of which she was not a member.

Agudas Israel Housing Association argued that the demand for its housing from the Orthodox Jewish community outstripped its supply of available properties, meaning that in practice all of its homes went to people from that group.

The appellant claimed she had suffered unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race or religion in contravention of the Equality Act 2010 because she had been identified as in priority need for housing by Hackney Council in London, but was not made an offer by AIHA, despite suitable accommodation being available.

Her claim had previously been dismissed at the divisional court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in the UK.

The case was taken to the ECHR last year.

It found that article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects individuals’ rights to not be discriminated against, does not prohibit treating groups differently in order to correct “factual inequalities” between them.

“Such a pressing need was clearly the case in respect of the Orthodox Jewish community owing to the significant hardship they faced in accessing housing in the private rental sector,” the court said.

The decision was made by a chamber of seven judges from countries including Austria, the UK, Romania and Armenia.

Chaya Spitz, chief executive of AIHA, said: “We welcome this decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which confirms that making targeted provision to meet the needs of minority groups is protected by the law.

“For 40 years, AIHA 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, to have established an important principle which affects many different communities across the UK.”

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