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In Bankole Jones v. Watford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3100 (Admin), the High Court held that rough sleepers were not in priority need because of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Mr Toby Vanhegan appeared for the appellant in the High Court.  

The appellant is 29 years old with mental health issues. In July 2019 he had to leave his room at the YMCA because of his behaviour. He applied to the respondents for homelessness assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 ("the Act") and was provided with temporary accommodation at York House, a hostel in Watford. He had to leave there in September 2019 because of complaints about his behaviour. Since then, he has been living on the streets in a tent, and sofa surfing. In March 2020 the respondents made a decision under section 184 that he was not in priority need. In April 2020 he was offered a room in bed and breakfast accommodation at Phoenix Lodge because of the Covid 19 pandemic, which he refused. By a letter dated 21 May 2020, the respondents made their review decision. They decided that the appellant was not in priority need.  

He appealed to the county court but applied for a transfer of the appeal to the High Court because of the wider importance of the issues. The Circuit Judge ordered that transfer.

The appeal was heard by Mr Mathew Gullick, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, on 8 October 2020. He decided as a preliminary point that the High Court did have jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

There were four grounds of appeal. The first was that the review did not address whether the appellant was in priority need by virtue of section 189(1)(d) because he was homeless as a result of the pandemic. It was common ground that the appellant was homeless, but the Judge refused to rule on whether the pandemic was an "emergency" for the purposes of the section. Instead, he found that the issue had not been properly raised by the solicitors in their representations on review because they had argued that he was homeless because of the unsuitability of Phoenix Lodge, not the YMCA. In any event, he held that there was no evidence that the YMCA would have become unsuitable at any point during the pandemic.

Ground 2 was that, as a rough sleeper during the pandemic, the appellant was vulnerable by virtue of section 189(1)(c). That argument was rejected on the basis that the contention that all those sleeping rough during the pandemic are vulnerable, seeks to introduce into the relevant test a distinction between different categories of homeless persons which is not present in the legislation. The comparison that the statute requires is between the applicant and the ordinary person if made homeless and not between rough sleepers as a subcategory of homeless people, and others. The Judge also rejected the argument on the basis that the appellant had not identified any particular health issue which made him more vulnerable to harm because of the pandemic, see [74] to [76] of the judgment.  

In relation to the third ground, the Judge held that the respondents did not have to follow a letter from the DWP about the appellant's award of PIP, which set out his inability to carry out daily living tasks. The respondents were entitled to find on the evidence that he was able to carry out such tasks.

With respect to the fourth ground, the Judge found that reviewer had not applied a functionality test, when the decision was read as a whole.  

For all these reasons, the Judge dismissed the appeal.

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