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Discrimination Can Be Justified – Jewish Housing Charity Passes the Test

Discrimination is generally a dirty word, but it can very occasionally be justified. The High Court made that point in dismissing a challenge to a social housing charity’s policy of giving preference to members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The charity provided 470 homes in an area with a large Orthodox Jewish population and a pressing need for social housing. It accepted that its policy of primarily allocating its properties for occupation by members of that community involved direct discrimination, as defined by Section 13(1) of the Equality Act 2010.

However, in dismissing a judicial review challenge to the policy brought by a single, non-Jewish, mother of four children in desperate housing need, the Court found that that discrimination was justified, not least by the need to protect Orthodox Jews against a dramatic increase in racist crime targeted at their community.

The Court accepted that the length of the charity’s waiting list meant that, in practice, its properties were only ever allocated to Orthodox Jewish applicants. However, the policy had to be measured against a 44.5 per cent increase in reported anti-Semitic crime between 2014 and 2016, with 10 per cent of such crimes involving violence.

Traditional clothing worn by Orthodox Jews made them particular targets for anti-Semitism and the evidence demonstrated the needs of members of the community to live relatively close to one another for security reasons. Deprivation levels were high amongst Orthodox Jews in the area and they tended to have large families, requiring multi-bedroom accommodation.

In the circumstances, the charity’s policy was a proportionate response to the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community which it served and the particular disadvantages under which its members laboured. If the charity were to allocate any of its properties to non-members, that would seriously dilute the amount of accommodation available to Orthodox Jews. The Court also rejected arguments that the local authority could not lawfully make referrals of housing applicants to the charity.

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