Court rules father had ‘no right’ for faith school preference to be considered by council in housing relocation

A father who took Waltham Forest Council to court for not taking into account his desire to send his children to a faith school when offering temporary housing has lost his case.

Rabah Ghaoui and his family had been relocated more than 20 miles away after facing eviction from their privately rented accommodation in March 2020.

Waltham Forest Council had provided them with a home in Harlow to prevent them becoming homeless, after first being approached in April 2019.

But the father-of-two said his rights were “not being considered” as the move had not accounted for the fact his eldest child was attending a private Muslim faith school in the borough.

He did not want his children to attend a multi-faith school in Harlow and complained to the council that the home – a long way from the school and his place of work – was unsuitable.

However, in a strongly-worded letter to Mr Ghaoui, a council officer asserted that “choosing to educate your children in a privately run faith school motivated by dislike of your children mixing with other children from a diversity of faiths is not a need”.

Mr Ghaoui challenged this view in the county court, arguing that his family’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to freedom of religion – had not been taken into account and said the council was wrong to not recognise the schooling issue as a “need”.

His county court bid was unsuccessful and the ruling, in favour of the council, was upheld by the Court of Appeal, with Lord Justice Peter Jackson dismissing the father’s case on April 18..

He said that Mr Ghaoui could expect that his choice of school would be considered by Waltham Forest, but not that the council would place “any particular weight” on his choice of school “just because that choice was motivated by faith”.

However, he also chided the council officer for the “unfortunate” tone of their letter.

He said: “There is much to be said for plain speaking in decision-making but there was no need for the officer to speculate about the appellant’s motives for choosing a particular school or to make gratuitous remarks about the reasonableness of his parenting.

“Comments of that kind may foster appeals, even if they do not actually assist appellants.”

Ahsan Khan, deputy leader of Waltham Forest Council and cabinet member for housing, said the ruling set an “important precedent” for local authorities.

In a statement issued to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “We are pleased that the judges have ruled in our favour in this case. The ruling sets an important precedent for local authorities that means we do not have to prioritise faith-based schooling over other important factors we consider when helping those who come to us at risk of becoming homeless.

“Our preference is always to keep people as close as we can to their friends, families, and support networks in Waltham Forest. Where this is not possible, we will work with them to find accommodation that is suitable for their needs and prevents the risk of them becoming homeless.

“We would like to apologise for the comments made by the council officer in the letter.

“The comments fall short of the high expectations we expect of all our staff.

Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter