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Judge rules against woman who re-entered property after locks were changed

A woman who managed, after the locks were changed, to re-enter temporary accommodation being provided by a property firm for a council was a trespasser and had no right to stay, Chelmsford County Court has ruled.

In Merritt v Thurrock Council & Anor [2021] EW Misc 2 (CC) HHJ Karen Walden-Smith said the claimant was “not able to establish that she has a serious question to be tried”.

The claimant had sought an injunction against Thurrock Council and property firm Midos Management, while Midos sought an injunction against her.

The claimant and her daughter had been living at an address in East Tilbury since August 2019 but in December 2020 the locks were changed by Midos.

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She was able to re-enter property using her back door key, which still worked.

Midos provided the property to Thurrock Council on a nightly basis and the council provided it to the claimant under section 188(3) of the Housing Act 1996.

The claimant applied for an injunction to re-admit her to the property and to prohibit her from being unlawfully evicted.

This reached court just before Christmas and HHJ Walden-Smith told that the council and Midos not to evict Ms Merritt until a full hearing.

The judge said: “It is an important case that required careful consideration and explanation as it highlights issues with respect to the status of accommodation provided by a local authority pursuant to section 188(3) of the Housing Act 1996 (HA 1996) and the applicability, or otherwise, of section 3 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

“It also concerns the protection available to a private landlord who grants licences of property to local housing authorities in order to enable those local housing authorities to fulfil their various statutory obligations and exercise their statutory powers, given the lack of available public housing stock.”

Thurrock had accepted its homelessness duty towards Ms Merritt and she was offered the property. It served a notice to quit on 10 November.

Ms Merritt sought an interim injunction to reinstate her on the basis that a letter sent in August 2019 was the grant of a tenancy and covered by section 3(1) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

Both Thurrock and Midos said there was no serious question to be tried because the property is not let as a dwelling.

Midos further contended that the property was on a licence rather than a tenancy.

HHJ Walden-Smith said: “It is argued on behalf of Ms Merritt that the provision of accommodation pursuant to the provisions of section 188(3) of the Housing Act 1996 is much more ‘significant at law’ than the provision of housing pursuant to the duty in section 188(1) of [that act].”

She did not accept that submission and said 188(3) only created a discretionary power.

The judge said Ms Merritt was “not able to establish that she has a serious question to be tried in circumstances where there is, in my judgment, clear Supreme Court authority that applies to this case”.

She refused to grant the injunction and released Thurrock and Midos from undertakings given not to remove Ms Merritt.

“Having brought to an end the licence under which Ms Merritt has been occupying the property, Ms Merritt is a trespasser on that property as she has no right to occupy,” the judge concluded.

She said the pandemic moratorium on eviction did not apply to trespassers but public health required as few people as possible should be outside their own homes. Enforcement action was therefore suspended until 21 February.

Mark Smulian

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