Orthodox housing association defeats legal challenge over catering solely to strictly observant

Appeal Court judges dismiss claim that Agudas Israel policy is discriminatory


The Court of Appeal has upheld the right of a Stamford Hill-based housing organisation to cater only to strictly observant Jews.

In February, the High Court dismissed a legal challenge brought by a mother of four that the policy of the Agudas Israel Housing Association amounted to discrimination.

But in a judgment published today, three Appeal Court judges rejected an appeal by the mother against the ruling.

Ita Symons, AIHA chief executive, said she was “thrilled that our approach and mission have survived this challenge to our legitimacy. We do not take properties from others, but we lessen the queue for other properties. It is so important that we can continue with our work with such distinguished endorsement for our approach.”

The High Court had noted the particular needs of the strictly Orthodox community in Hackney for housing able to accommodate large families. Charedi households in the borough on average comprised 6.3 people, compared to 2.4 in Hackney overall.

Charedi Jews were “more likely to experience poverty and deprivation” than mainstream Jews, the court observed.

Their dress also increased their “exposure to antisemitism and to related criminal activity”, the court said.

AIHA, which had 470 properties, had a waiting list of 700 people but was able to offer 12 or 13 homes a year.

The mother, whose family was described as “not members of the Orthodox community” and who was referred to as Z in court, had been recognised by Hackney Council as in need of housing.

But the council had not put her name forward when AIHA homes became available.

Applicants for AIHA homes are asked if they keep Shabbat and kashrut strictly. The charity’s properties provide for an observant way of life including the use of timers for turning on lights on Shabbat, for example, or kosher kitchens.

The Appeal Court noted that since the High Court hearing, Z and her family had been “satisfactorily housed”.

Elliot Lister of lawyers Asserson, which represented the AIHA, commented:  “The Orthodox Jewish community’s members’ way of life requires them to live close by each other as a community, to the extent that many prefer to stay in unsuitable properties than to move away from their community.

“I am grateful that yet another of the highest courts in the land has recognised the features of the Orthodox Jewish way of life and the disadvantages that are engendered by that way of life.

“More importantly, the court has again confirmed that the disadvantages can be legitimately addressed by a charity founded for that purpose, without fear of censure for discrimination.”

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