Orthodox Jewish housing charity wins supreme court case

16 Oct 2020 News

Agudas Israel Housing Association (AIHA) has won a Supreme Court case confirming that its policy of prioritising housing to members of the Orthodox Jewish community is lawful.

AIHA was set up to provide social housing primarily for the Orthodox Jewish community. In practice, all AIHA’s properties are allocated to members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The Supreme Court case was brought by a single mother, who is not part of the Orthodox Jewish faith and had been waiting for a property in the area for some time.

The ruling protects the charity's policy of offering social housing to members of the Orthodox Jewish community in the first instance, and has wider relevance for other faith-based charities. 

Waiting for months for suitable housing 

The single mother had four children and was top of Hackney Local Authority's waiting list for suitable housing. In October 2017, the council agreed that it would offer the appellant housing in the next suitable unit that became available, but until February 2019 no offer was made.

During that time, six properties owned by AIHA became available, but she had not been considered for those properties.

The appellant challenged AIHA’s policy on the grounds that it constituted unlawful direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

AIHA argued that the policy was necessary as the Orthodox Jewish community suffers disadvantages when it comes to social housing. This includes discrimination on the basis of large families, unique housing requirements, levels of poverty, and anti-Semitism.

The Supreme Court Justices unanimously confirmed that the Orthodox Jewish community does have specific requirements that need to be met and that AIHA's housing allocation policy is lawful.

‘It could have had serious ramifications for the entire faith charity sector’

Ita Symons, the chief executive of AIHA, said: “Since we started, our focus has always been to ensure that we provide appropriate social housing to those members of the Orthodox Jewish Community who need it. We began as a small group of motivated individuals who saw a local need within our community and built an organisation to fill that need.

“We are proud that we have worked successfully alongside Hackney Local Authority for so many years, and that hundreds of families have benefited from our work. We have invested a huge amount into today’s judgment and it now proves, beyond any doubt, that our policies have been vindicated and protect members of our community.”

This ruling upholds the rights of faith-based charities to prioritise members of their own faith, said Symons.

“If this case had gone the other way, it could have had serious ramifications for the entire faith charity sector. Whilst it was never our intention to provide more than housing for our community, I think today’s judgment means that we will have a much wider impact and that our work will enable other faith charities to continue to provide for their communities’ for the foreseeable future.”

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