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High Court rules on access to emergency accommodation during pandemic to people usually ineligible for support

Thursday 11 March 2021

Liz DaviesAdrian Berry and Connor Johnston of the Garden Court Chambers Housing Team were instructed to represent Shelter.

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Today’s High Court judgment makes clear that councils can lawfully provide emergency accommodation to people not usually eligible for homelessness assistance, who have been forced to sleep rough during the pandemic.

The Ncube v Brighton and Hove City Council case is an example of council practice seen throughout the pandemic of turning street homeless people away on the grounds they are not eligible for assistance because of their immigration status. While many councils have chosen to accommodate everyone under the banner of ‘Everyone In’ due to the obvious public health risk, others have not, leading to a lottery of support. As a result, some people are being left in life-threatening situations, including women who have been trafficked into the country, people who have lost their jobs or become ill during the pandemic and are unable to work.

Mr Justice Freedman’s ruling removes any ambiguity. It states that as long as the public health emergency persists, local councils can lawfully provide accommodation to those sleeping rough who are otherwise ineligible for support. These powers come under the National Health Service Act 2006 and the Local Government Act of 1972. The latter allows councils, in the context of an emergency involving danger to life, to help those living on the streets to avert, alleviate or eradicate the effect of Covid-19. The NHS Act 2006 also allows councils to provide emergency accommodation to promote public health.

Mr Ncube’s claim for asylum had been refused and therefore he had no recourse to public funds (NRPF). In September last year, he had approached Brighton and Hove Council for homelessness support because he was sleeping rough. The council rejected his application on the basis he was ineligible for homelessness support because of his immigration status. This decision was challenged in court. There is more detail about his circumstances set out at the beginning of the judgment. 

Shelter was granted permission to intervene in this case and was represented pro bono by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, along with our housing team barristers Liz Davies, Adrian Berry and Connor Johnston. Evidence and legal submissions to the court showed how the government’s guidance on ‘Everyone In’ was being haphazardly interpreted and the devastating impact on those left without help. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was also included as an interested party in the case.

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