On 10 June 2020, Mr James Strachan QC, sitting as Deputy Judge of the High Court of Justice, ruled in favour of Mr Christopher Mitchell, represented by Shabnam Shekarian, Solicitor of Hodge Jones & Allen and Toby Vanhegan of 4-5 Grays Inn Square, on a Judicial Review claim brought against London Borough of Islington.
Mr. Mitchell initially approached LB Islington while homeless and the interim accommodation duty under s.188 was subsequently engaged. A short time later (within the 56-day period), Islington sent out a letter titled “Notification of Decision – Part VII of the Housing Act 1996”, which outlined their reasons for finding the Mr Mitchell was not in priority need of assistance.
The Judicial Review process
Mr. Mitchell sought a Judicial Review against the council, challenging the refusal to provide him with accommodation, made on 11 November 2019 and under Section 188 (1) of the Housing Act 1996. Namely, the duty to provide accommodation pending a full decision on a homeless application.
In his Claim, Mr. Mitchell, sought a final order that the Defendant “do forthwith secure that suitable accommodation is available for occupation by the claimant until they lawfully discharge their duty under section 189B of the 1996 Act (the initial duty owed to all eligible persons which are homeless)”.
He also sought urgent consideration of his initial application and further the provision of suitable accommodation as a form of interim relief. Permission for which was granted.
The main issue moving forward was determining how and when a local authority’s interim duty comes to an end, especially in light of the amendments made to the same section in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The amendments advised:
- It’s the interim duty of the local housing authority to secure accommodation for the applicant if the authority has reason to believe the applicant may be homeless, eligible for assistance and have priority need.
There was no dispute in this case that the interim duty was triggered by the Claimant’s application for homelessness assistance on 22 August 2019. At that point, the information about the Claimant’s circumstances gave the Defendant reason to believe that he may be someone who met each of the three criteria.
The issue faced was deciding when and how that interim duty comes to an end. The Claimant contended that the answer is provided by section 188 itself in subsections (2A) and (3). In circumstances where subsection (2A) does not apply, subsection (3) provides that the duty comes to an end “in accordance with subsections (1ZA) to (1A)”.
By contrast, the Defendant contended that interim duty would come to an end if the Defendant decides that an applicant is not in priority need – at that point the Defendant no longer has the relevant reason to believe that a person may be in priority need for the purposes of section 188(1) of the 1996 Act.
Hodge Jones & Allen – homelessness review specialists
The original hearing was due to be held in late March. However, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis saw the case proceed by way of telephone conference on 24 March 2020. Judgement was handed down remotely on 10 June 2020.
The court found that a Section 184 decision provided by the Council before the s.189B (2) duty has been ended, cannot end the duty to accommodate under s.188 (1).
Mr Strachan said:
“In my judgment, the letter from the Defendant to the Claimant dated 5 October 2019 did not provide the type of notification set out in subsection (1ZA)(b). It did notify the Claimant that the Defendant had decided that he is not in priority need and gave reasons for that decision. It also notified him of a right to request a review.”