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High Court judge issues ruling over notification of ending of interim duty under section 188 of Housing Act 1996

The London Borough of Islington must pay costs in a homelessness case even though the claimant’s win was “to some degree ‘technical’”, the Administrative Court has ruled.

In Mitchell, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Islington [2020] EWHC 1478 James Strachan QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, ruled in favour of Christopher Mitchell over a decision by Islington in November 2019 to refuse to provide him with temporary accommodation under section 188(1) of the Housing Act 1996 .

The judge said the issue before him was how and when a local authority's interim duty under section 188 of the 1996 Act comes to an end, in light of amendments made by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

Mr Mitchell in June 2018 contacted Islington and was provided with temporary accommodation.

In August 2019 he applied for homelessness assistance under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 but Islington decided he was not in priority need as he was “not significantly more vulnerable than an ordinarily vulnerable person as a result of being rendered homeless”.

Mr Mitchell’s solicitor then told Islington he had “not been informed of any decision to end the S.189B duty nor has he been informed of his right to review.

“Your authority made the Section 184 decision within 56 days and therefore, currently, the S189B duty has not been discharged until there is formal notification of the same.

“Therefore, the relief duty is still ongoing and the duty has not been discharged under s188(1).”

Islington rejected this and said it had found “Mr Mitchell is not in priority need and therefore the authority's position is that he is no longer owed the s.188(1) interim accommodation duty”.

The judge said Islington had sent an incorrect notification to Mr Mitchell which did not comply with the notification requirement set out in section 188(1ZA)(b), by failing to inform him of a decision that when the authority's section 189B(2) duty comes to end, the local authority would not owe him a duty to provide him with accommodation under section 190 or section 193 of the 1996 Act.

Mr Strachan said Islington argued there should be no costs order as Mr Mitchell’s victory was technical because it provided him with no actual benefit and his representatives would have been aware of its intention to bring the section 188(1) duty to an end.

He said: “There is some force in the [Islington’s] observations that [Mr Mitchell’s] victory is, to some degree, 'technical'.

“[Islington] did not provide the requisite notice to bring the interim duty to an end, even though [it] had the relevant intention and power to do so if it had complied with the statutory requirements.

“Ultimately I do not see this as a reason to justify departing from the normal rule of requiring the unsuccessful party to pay the successful party's costs in this case.”

Mark Smulian

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