The lack of clarity around the procedure for urgent determination of s.204A Housing Act 1996 ('HA 1996') appeals became painfully clear in a recent case on which I was instructed by Derek Bernardi and Savva Grinevich of Lawstop. This note offers some insight into what did and did not work.
Following a s.202 HA 1996 review, our client was found not to be in priority need. The relevant local authority was informed that an appeal would be lodged and we requested our client be accommodated pending the determination of his appeal. The local authority refused to exercise their power under s.204(4) HA 1996 to accommodate pending appeal. We provided the local authority with our draft grounds of appeal, and invited them to reconsider exercising their power under s.204(4) HA 1996 but received no response.
In light of this, we issued an appeal in relation to both the priority need decision on review (the s.204 appeal) and the refusal to accommodate pending appeal (the s.204A appeal).
Our client was street homeless. We had evidence that he had mental health difficulties and also that he had previously disengaged from his support networks, including his solicitors, when homeless. We applied for a mandatory order under s.204A(4)(a) HA 1996 (see also s.204A(5)-(6) HA 1996) requiring the local authority to secure accommodation for our client until the determination of his appeal, on the basis that a failure to do so would substantially prejudice his ability to pursue his main s.204 appeal.
It was clear that we needed an urgent determination of the s.204A appeal, given that our client was street homeless. What was not clear was how to achieve this.
What didn't work
Our first attempt to get an urgent determination was made by way of an N244, accompanied by a draft order and skeleton argument. The application sought interim relief in the s.204A appeal and the listing of an expedited hearing before a Circuit Judge to determine interim relief. The draft order provided directions for an expedited hearing and the skeleton argument set out the basis on which the Appellant argued he was entitled to interim relief.
Upon attendance at the County Court at Central London, the court desk refused to process the N244 and said that the papers could not be placed urgently before a Circuit Judge to determine whether an order for an expedited hearing would be made. Instead, we were directed to prepare an application for an injunction (N16A) and to call the phone number used to obtain urgent injunction listings. That is, the procedure used where an injunction is required urgently in, for example, an unlawful eviction case.
What did work
In accordance with this advice, we prepared an N16A seeking an interim injunction requiring the local authority accommodate our client forthwith. We also prepared a draft injunction in form N16. We stated in our application that we were seeking interim relief on short notice. We put the local authority on notice that we were applying in this way and requesting the court make an urgent listing.
Initially, the court desk was reluctant to accept our application for an injunction, on the basis it was linked with an HA 1996 appeal. However, with persistence (and credit to Savva for this), they agreed to provide us with a counter appointment to lodge an application for an interim injunction. This was provided the next day at 10.30 am.
At 10.30am, we duly attended the counter appointment and sought to lodge papers. Again, the court staff were unclear as to whether they could accept the application given its connection to an HA 1996 appeal. With persistence, it was agreed that the papers would be placed before a Circuit Judge. After lunch, we were informed that the Judge was willing to hear the matter today, or tomorrow, but that the local authority needed time to travel to attend the hearing. The Judge was not willing to hear the application without the other side being represented. The court staff were taking steps to try to get hold of the local authority.
Alongside this, we had been keeping the local authority updated as to our progress with getting a listing. This, paired with the court now also trying to reach them, precipitated a response. They conceded the s.204A HA 1996 appeal and agreed to provide our client with accommodation pending the determination of his main appeal.
Our experience suggests that if there is a genuine need for interim relief in a s.204A HA 1996 appeal, then the injunction application route might be the way to go. However, it is notable that there was significant confusion at court as to whether we were able to use this procedure to get an urgent listing - and there is no guarantee it will work again, or that it will work somewhere other than Central London. Moreover, we don't know what the Judge would have done at the hearing if the matter hadn't settled.
All of this shows there is a need for clear guidance about how to get urgent interim relief in s.204A HA 1996 appeals. There are few cases where a mandatory order under s.204A HA 1996 is likely to be made - nevertheless, in an appropriate case, there should be a clear route for obtaining interim relief.