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Court of Appeal agrees to hear case on how homelessness applicants should proceed with challenges

The Court of Appeal has granted permission for an appeal in a case that is said to raise an important point of legal principle relating to homelessness appeals.

Law firm Duncan Lewis said its client had been given permission in the case of Ohio Stanley v Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council B5/2020/0221.

Setting out the background to the appeal, the firm said: “Under the Housing Act 1996, when a homeless person makes an application to a local authority for assistance, the local authority must make a decision on their application as to what duties are owed to them for assistance under s184 of the Act. If the s184 decision is unfavourable to the applicant, they may request a review of the decision under s202 of the Act. If they do request a review, the local authority will have 56 days from the date of the request to make a review decision which will decide either to uphold or overturn the s184 decision.

“The applicant then has a statutory right of appeal to the County Court under s204 of the Act. Under s204(1)(a), if the applicant is dissatisfied with the decision on review then they can appeal it to the County Court. Under s204(1)(b), if the local authority does not make a review decision within the 56 day period then the applicant can appeal the s184 decision to the County Court.”

Duncan Lewis said that Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council had made a s184 decision that the appellant was intentionally homeless and therefore they owed her no further assistance. The firm then requested a review and made representations supporting the review.

However, the council then failed to make their review decision in time and so Duncan Lewis appealed the s184 decision to the County Court under s204(1)(b). Welwyn Hatfield then made their review decision but out of time.

Duncan Lewis also appealed the review decision to the County Court under s204(1)(a). It said that at the joined hearing of the appeals on 15 January 2020, it argued, on behalf of its client, that it “simply engaged the Appellant’s statutory appeal right by appealing both decisions”.

The council argued that the appeal against the out of time review decision had the effect of validating an out of time review and this meant that the appeal against the s184 decision was of no effect and should be struck out.

HHJ Bloom sitting at the County Court at Luton agreed and struck out the appeal against the s184 decision. She decided to hear only the appeal against the s202 decision.

Subsequently, Duncan Lewis appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

On 17 August 2020, Lady Justice Asplin granted permission to appeal, deciding that the appeal had a real prospect of success and raised an important point of principle.

Duncan Lewis said its grounds of appeal were that the Circuit Judge was wrong to dismiss the appeal against the section 184 decision in circumstances in which the review of that decision was determined out of time and that the review was indeed out of time on the facts of the case.

The appeal will be heard on 13 October 2020.

Gareth Hutton, caseworker in Duncan Lewis’s housing department, said: “This is an important homelessness case which will determine how homelessness applicants can challenge the decisions of local authorities on their homeless applications going forward.

“There have been several cases on this issue which have not clarified the legal positon with any degree of certainty and which give conflicting findings as to the correct course of action an applicant is required to take by virtue of the Housing Act 1996.

“This case has the potential to be a leading case in the area of homelessness and will hopefully decide with some certainty that homelessness applicants have a statutory right to appeal both an initial and review decision of a local authority provided that the relevant circumstances in sections 202(1)(a) and (b) are met.”

Hutton added: “This will be an important appeal for homelessness applicants around the country because it will give them clarity as to how they should proceed with future homelessness challenges.”

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