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Social Welfare Update: Repeat homelessness applications and local connection

Friday 26 February 2021

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The Claimant, Mr Minott, applied to Cambridge City Council as homeless in March 2019 and was provided with interim accommodation under s188(1) Housing Act 1996. However the performance of the relief duty under s189B(2) Housing Act 1996 was subsequently referred to Sandwell MBC, on the footing that Mr Minott had a local connection with the district of that authority but did not have a local connection with the district of Cambridge. 

Sandwell accepted this referral in August 2019 and Cambridge informed Mr Minott that the duty owed by them to him had come to an end. Mr Minott’s licence to occupy his interim accommodation was terminated that month. However, Mr Minott refused to leave the accommodation and opposed Cambridge’s attempts to get him out.

In October 2019, Mr Minott sought to make a second homelessness application to Cambridge citing a change in his circumstances, on the footing that he had, by that point, been normally resident in the area for a period in excess of six-months. For six-weeks of this period he had been occupying the property without permission.

Cambridge refused to accept the second application, taking the view that it was based on exactly the same facts as the earlier application. Mr Minott sought judicial review. The High Court rejected his claim. The ‘simple passing of time and the unlawful occupation of the accommodation cannot amount to a new fact’ and therefore Cambridge’s conclusion that the second application was identical to the first, with the consequence that they were not obliged to accept the second application, was not irrational or otherwise unlawful.

The judgment is available here.

Comment

This, it has to be said, is not an especially attractive case on its facts. The Claimant was seeking to rely, at least in part, on his own wrongdoing – the period of time he had spent living unlawfully in the accommodation – as a means to access a benefit from the local authority. 

However, as a matter of procedure, I’m not sure that the decision of the court is quite right on this one. The underlying principles were not in dispute. To have a local connection one needs to have a ‘real’ connection with an area: the simple passage of time will not suffice to build a local connection based on normal residence. See Re Betts [1983] 2 AC 613. And a repeat homelessness application should not be accepted where it is based on exactly the same facts as the previous application. See Begum v Tower Hamlets LBC [2005] 1 WLR 2103.

The point I struggle with is the Judge’s conclusion that the ‘simple passing of time… cannot amount to a new fact’. Of course, the mere passage of time is not determinative of whether someone has developed a local connection based on a period of normal residence. That is the Re Betts point. But it is a relevant factor for the local authority to consider in assessing the quality of the person’s connection. E.g. I am more likely to have built up a ‘real’ connection with an area if I have lived there for 10 years rather as opposed to a few months. Therefore if the length of time a person has lived in an area has increased between their first and second application, the facts underpinning the two applications do not – to my way of thinking – seem to be identical. So I would have thought that the correct procedure would have been for the council to accept the second application and then (swiftly) conclude that application against Mr Minott, on the footing that he had still not developed a local connection with Cambridge, and the relief duty was owed to him by Sandwell. See, for a variation on this situation, Johnston v Westminster [2015] EWCA Civ 554 at [33].

Instead what the court here seems to have done is conflated the existence of a new fact, with an assessment of the quality and materiality of that fact to the outcome of the application. Which seems to be a return to the 'material change of circumstances' approach to repeat applications which was rejected in Begum v Tower Hamlets LBC [2005] 1 WLR 2103.

It’s hard to quibble with the end result here that Cambridge did not ultimately owe Mr Minott a further duty following his second application. But I am not sure that the route that they, and the court, arrived at that conclusion was the right one.

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