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High Court rejects challenge to decision homeless man was not in priority need

Watford Borough Council has won a High Court case over its actions concerning a homeless man but the judge dismissed the local authority's submissions questioning the court’s jurisdiction to deal with the appeal.

Kyle Bankole-Jones complained of his treatment by Watford and raised four grounds of appeal in the county court.

He argued two issues were wider than his own case and HHJ Vavrecka transferred the case to the High Court.

Watford did not try to overturn this, but in its skeleton argument questioned whether the High Court should hear the case.

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In Bankole-Jones v Watford Borough Council [2020] EWHC 3100 (Admin) Mathew Gullick, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, said: “A number of procedural issues might have arisen had this submission been correct, including in particular that the respondent had never sought to overturn Judge Vavrecka's order.”

He went on: “I am satisfied that the learned judge did have the power to transfer the appeal to this court and so the procedural consequences of a finding to the contrary do not, therefore, arise.”

Mr Gullick refused Watford’s suggestion that he should give guidance to county court judges on when to transfer statutory housing appeals to the High Court.

He said: “It is neither necessary nor appropriate in these circumstances for me to attempt to give any sort of guidance to judges of the county court in this regard.”

Turning to the case itself, the judge said it was a statutory appeal under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996 against Watford’s decision under section 202 of that Act that Mr Bankole-Jones was homeless and eligible for assistance, but not in priority need.

In January 2019, he was granted a room at the YMCA hostel in Watford but given notice to leave in July that year due to his behaviour, breaches of rules and rent arrears.

He applied to Watford on the grounds he would be homeless and suffered from severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and was vulnerable under section 189(1)(c) of the 1996 Act.

Watford assessed him as able to carry out daily tasks and placed him in a hostel, which he was told to leave in September 2019 due to arrears and misbehaviour towards staff.

Since then he had been “both 'sofa surfing' and living on the streets in a tent”, Mr Gullick noted.

After lengthy correspondence with doctors the council concluded Mr Bankole-Jones was not in priority need, and he began legal action.

He argued that Watford's review did not address whether or not he was vulnerable under section 189(1)(d) of the 1996 Act because he was homeless - or threatened with homelessness - as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and nor did it deal adequately with vulnerability under section 189(1)(c) of the 1996 Act.

Mr Bankole-Jones also said Watford’s conclusion that he could carry out daily living tasks independently was contrary to the basis upon which he had been awarded personal independence payments and that the council had erroneously applied a functionality test when assessing his vulnerability.

Dismissing all these contentions, Mr Gullick said the first ground raised an argument never put to the council and for which there was an insufficient evidential basis.

He said Watford’s review adequately considered vulnerability and “was not erroneous in law”.

There had been no change in circumstances around the personal independence payment award and no error of law over the functionality test.

Mark Smulian

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